Harding finds gold in Asian markets

Jo FulwoodCountryman

Williams farmer Simon Harding is a firm believer in the paddock to plate concept.

So much so that he sells his entire crop direct to markets in Japan and Korea, and is also working towards selling into China.

"We often have bus loads of Japanese customers coming to stand in the paddock, particularly the canola because that produce is for human consumption," Mr Harding said.

Mr Harding and his wife, Bronny, farm 1400ha just north of Williams. The export side of the business also includes his father Graham and uses a Japanese assistant to bridge the language barrier.

A second-generation farmer, Mr Harding began exporting hay direct to Japan in the 1980s through a Department of Agriculture initiative.

He now directly exports up to 25,000 tonnes of hay each year, plus canola and oats for horse feed.

"We have long term clients that we sell hay to every year. Our hay goes all around Japan, but mostly to Tokyo and south," Mr Harding said.

"It's only been in the last couple of years that we have been pushing the new markets in Korea. This was really on the back of the 2011 season where we had a lot of downgraded hay and Japan was unable to cope with that quality of hay.

"Traditionally Korea has been a cheaper market in regard to their buy price, but that seems to be changing. They are realising that quality hay is better, and they are now starting to be more competitive," he said.

Mr Harding said he exported the hay and grain in containers with the hay pressed into 50kg bales.

This year, the farm has 700ha planted to oaten hay, 400ha to canola and 300ha planted to oats for grain production.

And in a district renowned for its wool and sheep production, Mr Harding's business runs no livestock.

"I sold the last of my ewes four years ago. I have a farm that is fairly arable; there aren't paddocks that you can't crop," he said.

"Every time we sat down and looked at the numbers, we seemed to be making a loss out of sheep."

Like most farming properties across the south-west land division, June was extremely dry for the Williams area, but an average July and 50mm so far in August have turned the season around.

"The season is looking good so far for hay this year," Mr Harding said.

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