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Mungbean company at top of vertically integrated Queensland operation

Damien and Jonnie White with their daughter Bailey in a crop of lucerne at their home property in Biloela, central Queensland.
Photo: Sally Chilcott

Two former agricultural scientists head up a successful Queensland mungbean operation.

Farming always felt like something for which central Queensland growers Damien and Jonnie White were destined.

Since the chance arose for Damien and Jonnie to buy their 80-hectare home block in 2003 at Biloela, the family has never looked back.

The former agricultural scientists now manage 2800ha across four properties, while also operating the successful Australian Mungbean Company (AMC) where they clean, pack and export central Queensland-grown mungbeans to the world.

"Farming for us is part of a vertically integrated business," Damien says.

"It also encompasses grading and containerising pulses at our facility here in Biloela and a direct export office in Brisbane."

The White's farming enterprise includes 115ha of centre-pivot and roll-line irrigated land, 220ha of dryland cultivation and grazing for Brahman cross breeders.

They grow mungbeans, chickpeas, wheat, barley, sorghum and seed crops such as millet and forages, and hay, comprising mostly winter cereals and lucerne.

Decision-time for planting

In early January, like many producers across the northern region, they started making decisions on whether and when to plant their dryland paddocks.

Damien says their average annual rainfall is technically 680 millimetres.

"But it really is a moot point. We've been farming in the Callide Valley since 2003 and in that time have seen two major droughts and five flood events," he says.

In 2019, the pair received 223mm at their home block near Biloela and 275mm at their grazing block at Calliope, 100 kilometres closer to the coast.

Damien says they are lucky to have an irrigation allocation of 400 megalitres and still have access to alluvial water.

"However, we are typically set up to supplementary irrigate and full irrigation isn't possible over much area, given crops' evaporative demand over a summer with no in-crop rainfall," he says.

"So, we restricted ourselves to 5ha of lucerne for hay, 35ha of mungbeans and 17ha of sorghum this summer."

In contrast, dryland areas have not been planted for two years. However, rain in mid-January, with a good prediction of follow-up rain, saw them planting most of their dryland area to sorghum and mungbeans.

"Getting effective ground cover was one of the considerations prompting us to plant on marginal rainfall, rather than waiting to fill a fallow," Damien says

Our (mungbean) growers benefit from this intrinsically, which is why I think we have such a terrific, stable base of growers who choose to deliver to us. - Queensland grower Damien White

He says ground cover on their alluvial soils is paramount.

"We were lucky that quite a bit of our alluvial country has stubble left from winter cereals in the lead-up to the hot, dry and windy summer," he says.

"The areas that did not have cover suffered shocking wind erosion losses."

When not in the paddock, Damien is kept busy at the AMC. During peak processing times, which can last up to five months, the business operates 24 hours a day, six days a week.

The White's experience from growing mungbeans to end-market requirements makes them and their company quite unique.

"Our (mungbean) growers benefit from this intrinsically, which is why I think we have such a terrific, stable base of growers who choose to deliver to us," Damien says.

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