Back to News & Media

Secure water made Queensland horticulturalists move to Maffra

13 May 2024 | News
13 May 2024

Video Url


Famed for their delicious leafy greens and herbs, Queensland horticulturalists Dicky Bills moved their summer production to Maffra in 2012. Company Director, Ryan McLeod, says the secure water, rich soil and relatively stable climate made the decision a no-brainer. Today, he farms 700 acres in the region year-round and wishes he moved earlier. Here, he explains why. 

Ryan said the 2010/2011 growing season was a critical time for the business after being battered by extreme weather events in Queensland. 

“We had one summer in Stanthorpe where we had a big hailstorm roughly every 10 days. Even though we were west of the divide we were getting a tropical rainfall pattern,” he said. 

“We’d try and make enough profit over winter not to lose it all over summer. It became painfully clear it was not a sustainable business model,” he said. 

After some soul searching and serious research visits to several areas across Australia, the Dicky Bill company settled on the Macalister Irrigation District as the right place to successfully manage their risks and diversify the business.  

“We knew a few other horticulturalists who were doing well in the district and once we assessed the opportunities knew it was the right spot to pitch the tent,” Ryan said. 

Dicky Bills farm 12,000 acres across Queensland and Victoria. At their Maffra site the produce around 80 tonnes of leafy greens in spinach, wild rocket, and salad mixes and several thousand head of cos lettuce per week too. 

“The soils here on some of these river flats are among the best in Australia. And when you add the reliable rainfall and temperate climate to the mix you’ve got all the ingredients for a thriving venture,” he said. 

The Victorian summer is Dicky Bills busiest period in Maffra and sees them employ around 160 people during peak production which drops down to around 80 in the quieter times.  

All this activity is underpinned by the secure and reliable water that flows from Lake Glenmaggie, through our irrigation network to Dicky Bills growing beds. They also have an entitlement that allows them to draw water from the Avon River when irrigation system shuts down during the closed season. 

Ryan said that it’s sometimes easy to forget about the work that goes into managing and supplying them with water. 

“When we turn those sprinklers on, we know there’s a lot being done behind the scenes to get it to us and we appreciate the service Southern Rural Water delivers,” he said. 

“I can’t stress enough how important secure water is. The people we employ, the money we spend in the local economy and all the good flow on effects it generates just wouldn’t be possible without this water,” he said. 

Ryan says he’s cautiously optimistic about the future and they’ve made a significant change to their bedding design that allowed them to grow more greens and save water. 

“We’ve got a fixed irrigation system with 15.5 metres between the sprinkle lines. A few years ago, we widened our bed widths from 1.8 metres wheel centres to 2.5 metres to fit into sprinkle lines,” he said. 

“Essentially, we went from eight beds to six beds between sprinkle lines. We gained 17 percent more country to grow on and saved significant amounts of water because we weren’t watering the wheel tracks as much,” he said. 

Dicky Bills has also invested in a fully automated irrigation system that gives them precise information about what their crops need and control over when and how much water they receive. 

While floods over the last two years’ floods have given Ryan a headache, he’s still positive about the region’s suitability for his business. It’s the ability to stay competitive and financially viable in today’s tough market that causes him more trouble. 

“Forty years ago, you could just about grow anything because the production and labour costs were much lower.”  

“Today, it’s a different world and if you don’t have everything managed to the third decimal place, it’s a real struggle to be honest,” he said. 

This hasn’t stopped Ryan from innovating because he’s produced Australia’s first triple washed, ready to eat herb line and it’s being trialled in the big two supermarkets imminently.  

“It’s taken around five years to develop this product that takes the hassle out of chopping herbs, washing them and avoiding the bits of soil you might have missed.” 

“We’re proud to put Maffra on the map for fresh, healthy produce and we hope consumers love this product as much as we do,” he said. 

Ryan says that Victoria has the goods when it comes to growing greens but it’s missing one thing he’ll always love more about Queensland: rugby. Luckily, he still gets travel to see his belove Brisbane Broncos.