Farming Legend of the Year Winner: Dennis Howe

When the concept of the Farming Legend Award was first envisaged by organisers Kondinin Group and ABC Rural, a man like Dennis Howe was exactly what the new award was deemed to commemorate.
Farming Legend of the Year Winner: Dennis Howe Farming Legend of the Year Winner: Dennis Howe Farming Legend of the Year Winner: Dennis Howe Farming Legend of the Year Winner: Dennis Howe Farming Legend of the Year Winner: Dennis Howe

Alex Paull

The humble farmer from Walkamin, Queensland, first took over the family farm at the age of 23 after his father lost his battle with illness. Howe Farming Enterprises began farming tobacco in Biboohra in the 1950s, and by the 1990s the family had trialled growing many grain and fruit crops including share farming peanuts.

In 1995, Howe Farming decided to grow bananas, and today this professional enterprise has over 430 staff and has diversified into growing many crops. 

Under the direction of Dennis, it grows a wide variety of crops including 430 hectares of avocados, 1600 hectares of bananas, 25 hectares of blueberries, 1600 hectares of sugar cane and 190 hectares of coffee and other rotational crops.

The majority of the produce is marketed by Mackays Banana Marketing, and Dennis, recognizing a wise business opportunity, purchased a large share of this company in 2011.

Employee Kim Mastin, who submitted Dennis’ nomination without his knowledge, said Dennis’ risk-taking was the main catalyst to Howe Farming’s incredible success. 

“He’s very forward in his thinking – even though he’s an old fella he’s right up to speed with technology and all the lingo for everything,” she said.

“Reflecting on where we are now, it’s because he has taken those risk s and diversified when industries were discouraging it.”

Over the years Dennis has faced many challenges, but none quite as big as the outbreak of a new strain of Panama disease that hit the banana industry earlier this year. A nearby case was deemed to be a “false positive”, which meant Dennis had more time to respond. His response to the outbreak was a great example of the way he approached issue – by getting on the front foot and investing in biosecurity and investigating new resistant varieties. As a humble and modest man, a superlative such as ‘Farming Legend’ may make Dennis feel uneasy, but it is a tag that he is more than qualified to wear.