Bega Cheese Chairman Barry Irvin with South Burnett Regional Council Mayor Keith Campbell.
Bega Cheese Chairman Barry Irvin with South Burnett Regional Council Mayor Keith Campbell. Michael Nolan

How Bega plans to boost our peanut farmers

BEGA Cheese chairman Barry Irvin said his company was keen to support the South Burnett industry and improve the profile of our peanut farmers.

This was the message he delivered to the South Burnett Regional Council at a meeting on Wednesday.

"I am a sixth generation dairy farmer," he said.

"I'm the son of a dairy farmer who was the son of a dairy farmer who was the son of a dairy farmer."

Despite the heritage, Mr Irvin said he never wanted to be a farmer, but his father's untimely death forced him to walk away from a 10-year career in banking and take over the family legacy.

He jumped into the industry with passion and joined the Bega dairy co-operative as a board member about 20 years ago.

When deregulation and drought hit, farmers left the industry in droves and co-ops like Bega were closing across the country.

It was during these years Mr Irvin realised the potential farming could have in supporting rural towns.

"I was reminded when we became involved in the industry that dairy farmers weren't respected or considered an important part of the community. They were considered people who offered value or prospected the community," he said.

Nowadays Bega Cheese is the largest employer in the community.

It owns Vegemite and the country's highest selling peanut butter and has a market capitalisation of $1.4billion.

"It is with great pride that no one questions the value of the dairy farmer in Bega any more, not in terms of the employment that industry brings or the investment that comes with it," he said.

He hopes to re-create this dynamic with the Peanut Company of Australia.

The key to Bega Cheese's strategy is to connect customers with the origins of their food.

"Customers, no matter where they are in the world, want to know where their food comes from," Mr Irvin said.

"What our customers are interested in is the whole supply chain, right back to the farmer."

Showing this providence will mark Bega peanut butter out against its multi-national competitors.

"Australia is so well positioned to feed the world what it wants and that is healthy, natural food with little interference with the natural product."

But before Mr Irvin and his company can claim this focus on the farmer they need to end their reliance on imported peanuts and boost local production,.

"PCA in its current form can take 50 per cent more volume," Mr Irvin said.

"I like to grow things at rapid rates and I am more than keen to talk with community about ways we can do that."

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