Thinking outside the box
IN THE depths of drought, one tried and tested farmer is proving that thinking outside the box can really work.
Dennis Angelino has lived and worked the land at his familys' Amiens Rd property his whole life.
Sandwiched between two of the region's biggest apple producers, he's made a living off being an underdog.
"In 1946 my father (Paul) bought this place. It was only bare land and he planted all the trees.”
Both his father Paul and mother Renata migrated from Italy when they were infants. "So we're true Aussies really.”
He's not had an easy life, but finds solace in his work.
Dennis lost his mum just over three years ago, at age 94, and his sister died tragically in 2003.
His father worked in cane fields up north at Gordonvale before making the move to the Granite Belt.
"He got treated badly up there. A lot of hard work he done.”
Structurally, not a lot has changed on the farm since it was first propped up. What has changed is Dennis' approach to growing.
"I changed the story when my father died,” he said.
What was your typical apple orchard, soon converted to an organic approach.
Dennis was doing organic fruit before consumers had even caught wind of what organic was.
Thirty-five years on and it's never let him down yet.
His methodology and beautiful fruit has won him plenty plaudits over the years.
But it's his water-free approach that might see the eyes of other struggling producers light up.
Mr Angelino has adopted a "dry farm” way of working.
"No water. Nothing at all.”
While other producers have been carting water daily at astronomical cost, Mr Angelino still has a mostly full dam and a thriving orchard.
Dennis Angelino is quite possibly the only biodynamic organic, dry farm, apple grower around.
It might sound an odd way of working, but a glimpse at his orchard is proof he is onto something.
It hasn't always been an easy way of working. He's been hit by hail severely at least 20 times by his count, but refuses to install protective netting.
"Anything under hail netting contains too much chemical. If growers keep hail netting for 30 years it gets potent. If it rains it all comes down on to the fruit.”
He's adopted an 'each to their own' type policy, but can't quite understand why other producers don't try to eradicate chemicals from their production.
"About 99 per cent of Stanthorpe is all riddled with chemical and it should be banned.”
He's concerned by the use of ReTain, a plant growth regulator, which he says is widely used across the region.
"I've got literature to prove it can cause complications in unborn children.”
He concedes chemical-free and water-free farming isn't exactly easy, but he believes his fruit speaks for itself.
"Alright, the water has pulled some people out of trouble this year but next year if there's no water all those trees are going to go.
"What I do is work the land. The ground is rock hard and by working the land it lets all the oxygen in. Not only that, if you get frost it keeps the soil nice and cool and lets a bit of moisture in there.”
He proves it by digging little more than a few centimetres into the ground around his trees where it is all damp.
Over the years apple production has changed, as have the varieties, but Dennis has stuck to some of the old favourites like the Stanthorpe dells, crofton's, red stark's and fujis.
To keep his trees healthy he simply uses a mix of fish-based organic minerals which he disperses once a month.
Whatever he's doing, he appears to be doing it right, with fruit sellers from around the state desperate to get his product.
He even offers a personally delivered service. He still jumps in his truck, which he might be even more proud of than his orchard, and takes his fruit to places as far away as Tansey and Nanango.
"I'd like to put it in the Guiness Book of Records. It has never broken down in the 50 years I had it.”
The International C 1800 series, which he purchased at Bellinghams in Warwick, is his pride and joy.
He estimates it has done 1.5 million miles.
"It has never let me down on the road. I've never come across anything like it.”
At 75, Mr Angelino is starting to think about retirement. He says he'd pass on the property to someone, so long as it remained organic.
"I've been a bachelor all my life and I've worked hard. I just worked solely for the family to try and stay here,” he said.
- Matthew Purcell, Stanthorpe Border Post