Farm Diversification Special: Outback Harvest

As part of our series on farm diversification, we are chatting to producers across Australia and bringing to you a number of case studies that explore the plethora of opportunities for agricultural and non-agricultural diversification.

Our article series leading up to these case studies can be accessed here:

You can also access our tools and resources concerning Farm Diversification in our library.

In this next spotlight, we chat to Fraser McNaul of Outback Harvest. Fraser is a talented producer and innovator, who saw an opportunity and had the guts, foresight and determination to give it a go. We had a ball chatting to Fraser and we hope you are just as inspired as we were.

Fraser, tell us about you and where you are based?

My name is Fraser McNaul and I grew up on a mixed farming enterprise property in Wakool, in the south-western Riverina, running sheep, cattle, summer and winter crops. Wakool is about 350 km NW of Melbourne, and 800 SW of Sydney. It is a very small close knit community comprised predominately of irrigated farming off the Murray Irrigation scheme. The area used to be predominately made up of a mixture of dairy and cropping enterprise, however the majority have now transitioned to rice and sheep production.

I was born in Albury/Wodonga and we moved to Wakool when I was six when my parents starting a crop dusting business. Until I was twelve we lived in town and then moved onto the farm.

After finishing my final years of high school in Ballarat, I launched into a typical Australian school-leaver path and went on a gap-year. However, rather than the usual 12 months abroad, I was overseas on and off for five years. I would typically return to the farm and work over summer to assist and save up money, before heading off again on working holidays through the United Kingdon, Europe, Canada, Central and South America, and New Zealand.

Since returning home in 2014, I have been working on our property and building our value-added brand, Outback Harvest. I have always had a real passion for farming, but this was passion really bore its head after school when I was travelling and always outside.

There is nothing more rewarding than putting a crop in and taking it through to harvest. Or looking after ewes from joining and through to lambing. It’s the cyclical nature of farming that I love and get fulfillment out of.

What is the nature of your diversified business?

I set up Outback Harvest in 2014 to value add to our Teff crop. It is a family business, but is in a separate entity to our farm. We process the raw Teff grain into food grade Teff grain, which we then manufacture into a range of Teff flour, Teff baking premixes and Teff pasta.

Teff originated from Africa and has been a staple diet in Ethopia for thousands of years.  It is traditionally used in a porous, pancake style flatbread called Injera. It is a summer crop with a really short three month growing cycle. It has been regarded for its drought and water logging tolerant qualities.

Outback Harvest is still a small part of our farming operation in terms of production. We have however had to make some changes on farm — as Teff is gluten free we have had to segregate and designate certain machinery and silos to the business. The rest of the operation post production and storage is based out of Melbourne. We sell direct through Outback Harvest as well as through distributors.

Fraser, why did you start to value add through Outback Harvest?

While travelling in South America I came across Quinoa in the Bolivian saltflats. No being a massive foodie myself, I had not heard much about it before. After picking the brains of local producers and asking lots of agronomic questions, I got very excited. The idea to grow speciality grains on our property had nestled in my mind and after discussing with Dad about it at the end of 2014, we decided to give it a go.

I started Outback Harvest to diversify our farming operation and create a stable and fair market for ourselves as Teff growers. It was not only a new enterprise to have a go at, but we were encouraged to vertically integrate due to the state of the commodity market at the time.

A big driver was the lack of security we had as commodity growers. It was a year when the price of grain was pitiful so we were looking at ways to give ourselves more security in our production. Vertically integrate was one option.

What have been the major successes of the Outback Harvest brand?

Creating our first retail range in 2017 of Teff grain and flour in 400g pouches was a key success. After years of development it was a huge milestone.

It may not seem like much, but getting the branding and packaging right took the learning of many new skills and covering off on things we knew very little about at the beginning, including labelling and safety regulations. 

Also, having our products promoted on national television via the Intolerant Cooks series was an incredible highlight. Intolerant Cooks airs on 7Two on Sunday’s at 4.30pm and it is a thrill to see our Teff used on show episodes.

As at October 1 2018, we are grains and flours are now stocked in Richie’s IGA stores, which was a huge achievement and something we are very proud of.

What have been the major challenges in setting up and running the value-added brand?

In the beginning, everything you do is something you have never done before. As as with most things you do for the first time, it is hard to get right.

The major challenge for us was starting out and trying to figure out what we didn’t know and then finding the information we needed to fill these gaps. The food industry can be a cut throat one, but we have met the nicest people who have gone out of their way to give us their tips and point us in the right direction. We have been so fortunate in this regard – it has been extremely pivotal.

A key challenge has actually been educating the end user (the consumer) as well as the agricultural industry on the product Teff as an ingredient and how it can be used. We had to do a lot of research into understand how to educate consumers and what drivers they have in their purchasing decisions.

As with any product that is new or ‘non-mainsteam’ , you may believe you have the best product in the world, but if no one knows about it or or its benefits, the product and the brand won’t resonate with them, so they won’t pick it up. 

At this stage of the Teff life cycle, competition and new entrants into the market is two-pronged — it is both a threat and an opportunity. As the market is small, a new competitor can take away a slice of small market from our brand. However, through their marketing efforts and their advertising and promotion, they too are educating consumers, advocating the health benefits of Teff, and thereby helping to grow the market, which is a huge benefit.

Fraser, do you have any advice for others looking into diversifying their farm business?

My key advice would be to do as much market research on the project you are planning to undertake before starting. Having a clear understanding of what it is you want to achieve and how to plan to get this is absolutely fundamental in grounding yourself and creating a pathway and plan.

Fundamentally you have to have a passion for what you are doing. You have to keep yourself motivated every day as if you aren’t out there making it happen, it won’t happen.

In addition, the ability to be flexible and agile in responding to a lot of unforeseen challenges is vital. There will be knock-backs along the way, but you have to learn from each and move on. Enjoying the journey is paramount — It can be difficult at times but remembering why you starting in the first place and celebrating little wins and learning from mistakes is key.

Thank you so much Fraser and congratulations on all you are doing. Where can people find you?

They can find us at https://outbackharvest.com.au/ , on Instagram @outback_harvest or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/outbackharvest/.


Check up on our past posts here:

Farm Diversification Special: Whispering Woods

Farm Diversification Special: BABY BALES™

Farm Diversification Special: Katherine Outback Experience

Farm Diversification Special: Solar Sam Albanese

Farm Diversification Special: Corynnia Station

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