Island farmers turn to alcopop king

Duncan MacGillivray may be best known as the founder of Two Dogs, an alcoholic lemonade that rose to fame in the 90s, but these days you are more likely to find him promoting Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

The Adelaide Hills identity is the managing director of KI Pure Grain - a storage, handling and marketing company set up four years ago to try and get premium prices for the island's crops.

"It's very easy to show our buyers that come here all the time how wonderful and pure and clean and prestigious the place is," Mr MacGillivray said.

"What we had here was a project that was waiting to happen." While Kangaroo Island is gaining a reputation as a premium food producing region, broadacre farmers have struggled to make money because of the cost of ferrying their grain, legumes and oilseeds 16 kilometres to the mainland.

"It's the most expensive strip of water in the nation," local farmer Rodney Bell said.

Mr Bell is a fourth-generation mixed farmer on the island and one of the growers who first approached Mr MacGillivray for his help.

"This is the first time in my lifetime that we're using that strip of water as an advantage rather than a disadvantage," Mr Bell said.

The idea to keep KI's crops out of the bulk system and brand them started when four local farmers found a premium market in Japan for their non-genetically-modified canola.

Mr MacGillivray was brought on board to find new growers and markets and negotiate a cheaper more reliable freight arrangement.

"Farmers are paying less costs and farmers are being given a bigger return for their grain than was ever happening before under the ABB regime," he said "We've got somewhere around about 90 per cent support and we say that we are moving about 90 per cent of the grain off the island." While the company built its reputation on non-GM canola, it is now trying to encourage farmers to grow other crops that suit the island's cool, wet conditions and attract a premium.

In the past few years it has made a name for itself as a reliable producer of biscuit wheat, which has less protein than bread wheat.

"It gives me great pleasure to go to the mainland and see people eating Tim Tams and say 'Hey do you know that's come from Kangaroo Island ...

that wheat that's in that Tim Tam'," Mr Bell said.

He is also putting his faith in broad beans, which are exported to Japan, the Middle East and Indonesia for the dried snack market.

Mr Bell, who is a shareholder in KI Pure Grain, says the beans cope with water logging better than most crops.

"It opens up a lot of areas now that we thought traditionally were not good for cropping," he said.

As well as finding the right crops to grow, the other big challenge is growing enough of them.

That is where KI Pure Grain has run into trouble, because some of its suppliers, who are mostly mixed farmers, have chosen to focus on livestock.

Mr MacGillivray says lamb and wool prices were simply more attractive at the start of last season and is confident growers will return now there is more cash in crops.

But one of the island's bigger croppers, Craig Stott, says some of KIPG's growers have become disillusioned with the company.

Mr Stott does not supply KI Pure Grain, but instead chooses to store his grain on farm and handle the transport and marketing himself.

"There's a lot of people contracted to PG that have chosen not to crop in these last couple of seasons just because they're not making those premium prices and they've gone more back to livestock cause that's something they can actually control," he said.

Mr MacGillivray says the company has made significant progress.

"I said to everyone in the beginning it was going to take a few years to brand it," he said.

"A brand has to prove itself and we are now four years into it and we are definitely proving that." But he concedes last season was disappointing.

As well as having fewer growers, yields were well down on expectations, dipping below 19,000 tonnes after an unusually dry spring.

Despite the setback the marketing man from the mainland is pushing ahead with plans to try and double the land devoted to cropping over the next five years.

"It's as difficult as anything I've done.

But I still think you can do difficult things and enjoy them and this is one of the most enjoyable," Mr MacGillivray said.

"I can see beyond the horizon and I can see where we can progress and I think the future of Kangaroo Island is very solid."

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