Travel & Culture
Q&A with Des Chapman
Rocky Ponds Produce farms a range of melons: rockmelons, green honeydew and yellow honeydew and Piel de Sapo melons, as well as yellow, green and red capsicums and pumpkins. Des Chapman shares his story with Love My Salad.
Can you give us an overview of Rocky Ponds Produce?
Forty years ago, my wife, Paula, and I had a look at where we were going in the future and from a young kid I wanted to be a farmer. We thought we’d buy a little piece of land, 140 acres. It was an ex-farm that had gone to rack and ruin and we decided to clear it and have a go. There was a small amount of water and we did two to three years very tough – we couldn’t really make a go of it. Then we had a couple of good wet seasons, built some dams, they filled up and we had plenty of water so then we started to move and develop our name. We acquired more land and grew to 300 acres, 700 acres and the last acquisition was 1,250 acres. We’re growing melons, capsicums and pumpkins on approximately 1,800 acres a year and we’re very busy. We’re looking at new products all the time, not just on the growing side, but also the packaging side, and new trends, like convenience – that’s where we’re heading next.
The partnership between me and Paula – she’s the boss and I’m second in charge (laughs). Paula looks after all of the farm’s administration, from HR to the Government requirements, to ensuring we pay our bills and our staff get paid. We still working together and I’m still enjoying it after 40 years and I think that’s wonderful.
In terms of values for our business, it’s important for us to be ethical, pay our bills and look after our staff.
Where does the name Rocky Ponds Produce come from?
Rocky Ponds comes from Rocky Ponds Creek, we thought it was a good catchy name. Our point of difference is we strive for excellence and to have the best quality in the market place. We brand our products with so that the brand is recognised, and if it’s no good, people won’t buy it. But usually people come back and look for the Rocky Ponds Produce red and yellow sticker with the kangaroo.
What’s the climate like on your farm?
We have one of the greatest climates on earth and one of the longest growing seasons in the world. We have production of 36 weeks in the year and we can extend that further. We’re frost free and our temperature here though winter is amazing – that’s our biggest advantage over the rest of Australia.
What do you look for when selecting what to grow?
We are always looking for new products to take us into the next stage of horticulture whether that’s in new melons or capsicums, or new varieties that are even healthier, for example they have a higher vitamin content. A lot of the time its vegetable seed breeding companies that can show us new innovations.
In addition, we always need to consider what the consumer wants. Is it a sweeter product or a firmer product? Naturally, in the end it’s the consumer who makes the final decision so we’ve got to go to what they choose. We do research into exactly what consumers are looking for and study worldwide trends.
What’s your secret to success?
We haven’t stuck to just one area. We are diverse in crops and we are very big in rockmelons, honeydews, and now the great new Piel de Sapo melon which we’re very excited. We think the Piel de Sapo is going to move very well in the future. There’s a couple of new products on the way for us and we’re starting to expand into packaging.
Why are you excited about Piel de Sapo melons?
Piel de Sapo melons originate from Spain but are a reasonably new melon into Australia. ‘Piel de Sapo’ means ‘skin of the toad’, and because I’m half Spanish, I wanted to try growing them. So around 2015 we grew a small patch and everybody thought they were lovely piece of fruit. They have a combination of a few different flavours – honeydew, watermelon, rockmelon all mixed in together, it’s a very delicious melon.
I know one of the hardest things is to pick a good, sweet melon at the supermarket, but the Piel de Sapo makes it really easy. Their maturity indicators include ‘sugar cracks’ that run the length of the melon, a bright yellow spot on the skin where the melon has sat on the ground, and the stalk (where the plant was connected to the melon) should start to yellow off. If you look for these signs, it will guarantee you a sweet melon.
What’s the future of Rocky Ponds Produce?
To stay in front of our competitors we’ve got to look at what is happening state-wide, country-wide and across the supermarkets. Online shopping has posed some challenges and opportunities and we’re working out ways to deal with that. We must also look at worldwide trends, if consumers want a cut up apple or piel de sapo, then that’s where we must go. But we must do it safely.
One of our four children, Evan has come on board and it makes us feel very proud. He add another dimension, if you want to call it that, because he’s more into the computerisation of the farm. Our irrigation system is completely online and that means we can monitor and change the water anywhere in the world, so long as we have internet access. We can fertilise off our phones or iPads, we can check our soil moisture and many other different things. With the younger brains coming in and innovating the business ever further I think there’s a long way to go for Rocky Ponds Produce in the future. We’re glad to be working with good seed companies and Love my Salad.