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South Gippsland onion grower unpeels the secret of their success

3 November 2023 | News
3 November 2023

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Sam Powell is a fifth-generation farmer whose ancestors travelled from Wales to cultivate a new life in Thorpdale, south Gippsland. In the late 1800s, the Powell’s selected a few parcels of prime land that sowed the seeds of success Sam is proud to sustain today. But the secret ingredient that helps them grow some of Australia’s best onions is secure water. 

Sam said Thorpdale is an awesome place to farm because the reliable rainfall and on-farm dam infrastructure allows them to capture the region’s abundant water during the winter.  

“We have four dams on the property that allow us to access water all year round. This means we always have a season no matter what, whether dry or wet,” he said. 

The Powells originally started farming potatoes but switched to growing onions as their main production several years ago and it’s been a successful move for them. 

Sam said onions are a pretty humble and hardworking crop that can be profitable when grown in the right soils and climatic conditions. 

“Relative to other horticultural crops, onions have a low energy input per tonne of crop and require fewer megalitres of water per hectare for irrigation,” he said. 

Onions are Australia’s fourth largest vegetable crop accounting for nine percent of total vegetable production. We consume around 7.8kg per capita each year and Sam says demand remains strong. 

“They’re amazing crops because they flavour food like no other vegetable,” he said. 

“People will always want onions because they’re the foundation for recipes in so many cuisines and a world without them would be a bland one.” 

Onions are part of the allium family that contains other vegetables like leeks, garlic, and chives and are packed with vitamin c and other important nutrients. 

Most Australia’s onions are grown in South Australia and Tasmania. However, Gippsland is one of Victoria’s prime growing regions and Sam is proud to be flying the flag for the state. 

The Powell family run five farms in Thorpdale and Sam works alongside his father John and grandfather Frank. He said their strong relationship with Southern Rural Water has helped them over the years. 

Sam said their local field officer Frank Mannuzza has been helpful when they’ve wanted to expand their dams or transfer water permits between streams. 

“Frank is a really approachable guy, he’s always great to work with because he’s a straight talker, listens and always tries to find a good and fair solution,” he said.  

The farm employs around 10 to 15 people depending on the time of year. And apart from the occasional backpacker, most staff are locals and well-known to the family. 

“We’re a family business and make people feel welcome so they work hard and hopefully become as passionate about onions as we are,” he said. 

Sam loves being part of the business because he sees a bright future in farming and wants to leave a legacy his family will be proud of.  

“I’ve got big shoes to fill, but I feel confident that with dad and grandad’s guidance I’ll be ready to take the reins when the time is right,” he said.