Australian Farmer of the Year Winner: Matthew Keith

Matthew Keith’s commitment to sustainable practices in his Rocky Point mulching business and the ability to transform the grain, beef and sugarcane aspects of the business set him apart from the other finalists.
Australian Farmer of the Year Winner: Matthew Keith Australian Farmer of the Year Winner: Matthew Keith Australian Farmer of the Year Winner: Matthew Keith Australian Farmer of the Year Winner: Matthew Keith Australian Farmer of the Year Winner: Matthew Keith

Alex Paull

His family has been growing sugar in the Rocky Point area south of Brisbane since the 1940s. But Keith revamped his grandfather’s humble sugarcane farm into an environmentally-friendly mulching and garden product business, with an annual turnover of more than $30 million.

It is now the second-largest sugarcane grower in the region, producing 40,000 tonnes of sugarcane annually. In 2003, he initiated the formation of Rocky Point Mulching, which supplies mulch Australia-wide.

Rocky Point manufactures 1.5 million bags of sugarcane mulch and 2 million bags of other composts, potting mixes, soils and mulches per year.

To further diversify the business, Keith managed the purchase of two cattle and grain properties near Dalby, which, together with a property purchased in 1985, now total 3200ha to support 1,200 head of cattle.

“I have a long-term goal to position Rocky Point Mulching among the leaders in sustainable practices, in both the agriculture and manufacturing sectors,” Keith said.

“Our agricultural business will grow through increased production in sugarcane, grain and cattle, while our manufacturing of sugarcane mulch will expand into new markets for stock feed and export.”

The company is also trialling the use of manufactured compost as a substitute for synthetic fertilizers with an eye to the future of organic agriculture and is also trailing the use of green waste from the Gold Coast Council.

Last year’s winner and judge Matt Dunbabbin said one of the things which really sets Matthew apart is the impact that his farming practices and innovation are having on his community and dozens of other cane farmers.

“The mulching and recycling products he has developed are turning what was once waste into a valuable product in its own right, contributing significantly to the sustainability of his whole industry,” Mr Dunbabbin said.

Former ABC Rural Landline reporter and Farmer of the Year independent judge Neil Inall said Keith was a major contributor to agriculture and rural Australia.

“Matthew manages an environmentally friendly mulching and garden product business – but it’s more than that,” Inall said.

“The company also produces grain, beef and sugar, and a key product is 1.5 million tonnes of sugar cane which is value added by manufacturing the cane into mulch which stored in compressed bags.”

Keith admitted he always looked towards innovation and was not afraid of change.

“I have now started a new division within our company called Rocky Point Recycling. We are creating bulk garden mulch by diverting waste timber (pallets and any other timber offcuts) from landfill and grinding into a wood chip. The industry-leading grinding machinery was purchased from the USA and removes 100% of all nails from the waste timber pallets and colours the mulch red, black or brown.

“Under my guidance and direction, our companies are looking to invest further into sustainable practices such as food waste composting and possible biogas initiatives in the next 2-3 years.”

Inall said Keith’s compelling credentials made him a popular choice for the prestigious award.

“There is no doubt that Rocky Point is a leader in sustainable practices taking the company in a new direction by trialling the practice of recycling food waste. It aims to minimise soil compaction,” Inall said.

“There is no doubt that Matthew Keith meets all the award’s criteria of diversification, the use of innovative technologies and practices which contributes to the business’ sustainability and professionalism.”