As neighbouring dairy farms folded around them on Queensland’s Scenic Rim, Kay and Dave Tommerup chose between closing or saving their fifth-generation dairy by radically changing how they did business. 

They were already running a farm stay in a rustic homestead on their property and selling beef and milk-fed free-range heritage-breed pork to guests, visitors and chefs.

Tommerup’s Dairy Farm offers farm stays.(Supplied: Tommerup’s Dairy)

In January 2021, the couple took a leap, reduced their herd to just 22 cows and cut ties with their processor.

Using a century-old cream separator in a purpose-built micro-creamery, they make Jersey Girl cultured butter, cream-topped bottled milk, cream, crème fraiche, yoghurt and ice cream.

Pasture-raised eggs, organised tours and farmgate trails have been added to the agritourism mix.

Deep gold coloured rolls of butter on a stainless steel bench.

Kay Tommerup grew up hand-churning butter from her family’s house cows.(Supplied: Tommerup’s Dairy)

“It was a huge leap of faith, and it was probably a bit too much for my husband in the beginning,” Ms Tommerup said.

“But we haven’t looked back … the dairy makes four times more money now than when we were supplying a processor.”

Diversifying to survive

The sixth generation of Tommerups has now started businesses on the family farm at Kerry.

Three people stand smiling next to a garden of vegetables and mountains in the background.

Harry Tommerup supplies boxes of seasonal vegetables to chefs.(Supplied: Tommerup’s Dairy)

Son Harry, a mechanical engineer by trade, established a large market garden growing organic produce for chefs and visitors and makes preserves and pickles in a new farmhouse kitchen.

Daughter Georgia grows and sells cut flowers as she finishes her teaching degree.

“They know that they don’t have to do the things that we’re doing and that there are opportunities now for small farms, capturing that paddock-to-plate direct customer interaction,” Ms Tommerup said.

A rustic farm shop called the Farm Larder

The Tommerup family sells directly to customers.(Supplied: Tommerup’s Dairy)

Appointed to the board of the advocacy group EastAUSmilk, Ms Tommerup is eager to mentor other producers, using her family’s success as proof that dairy farms can survive by diversifying.

“We were a dairy farm being propped up by all the agritourism things that we were doing and now we have a dairy that on its own can make money,” Ms Tommerup said.

“All these other things that we do feed into this business model that when something’s not so great, something else picks up the slack.”

Farm tourism

By 2030, the CSIRO estimates the appetite for agritourism in Australia will be worth $18.6 billion annually, providing a potential lifeline for producers.

A tiny house with a big covered deck on a hill.

The Tidys’ tiny house is bringing a new stream of income to their farm.(Supplied: John Tidy’s Organics)

Three months after opening an Airbnb in Amamoor, certified organic avocado farmer John Tidy and his wife Julia, are hopeful their popular new tiny home will pay itself off within 15 months, bringing in a welcome income stream.

“It’s enjoyable, the guests have their privacy and their own independent access,” Ms Tidy said.

“But when they want to come down and see us or buy some produce, they have all been such beautiful people; very appreciative of the location, the peace and quiet and the tiny home itself.”

John Tidy holds up two avocadoes in front of a rustic barn.

John Tidy is passionate about regenerative farming at Amamoor.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

In 20 years on their property, the couple has witnessed dozens of farms being replaced by former city slickers buying lifestyle blocks.

Their on-farm costs, including rates and power have skyrocketed.

“Just to survive, you need to think of other ways you can get income,” Mr Tidy said.

“We’re looking at building a cabin as well because people want to come to this area, the Mary Valley is one of the most popular spots to visit from Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.”

Looking past the deck and house to a stunning sunset.

The Tidys’ tiny house offers spectacular views of the Mary Valley.(Supplied)

Changing landscape

Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) CEO Jo Sheppard said agritourism was not only an opportunity for diversification for many farmers, but a chance to connect with consumers who were eager to learn where their food and fibre came from.

Ms Sheppard said planning was already underway to capitalise on the Brisbane 2032 summer Olympics.

The QFF is working with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to set up a peak body for the agritourism sector.

“From a planning perspective, farmers are sometimes finding themselves in a situation where they need to choose between being a farmer or a tourism operator,” Ms Sheppard said.

Woman with blonde hair smiles into the camera

Jo Sheppard says the 2023 Brisbane Olympics will be an opportunity to offer farm tourism.(Supplied: Jo Sheppard)

Ms Sheppard said more flexibility was needed to recognise that the core business of agritourism enterprises was still farming.

“As part of this project we are working to develop a guide to assist councils to assess agritourism opportunities under the current code; to provide some guidance and support,” she said.

The New South Wales government has already amended its planning legislation to develop clear guidelines for agritourism proposals.

On the Sunshine Coast, the Food and Agribusiness Network is working with councils and more than 300 members to develop the regional agritourism offering from Moreton Bay north to Gympie through Project Crafted.

Last year, the Australian Regional Tourism Organisation developed an Agritourism 2030 strategy to work with all states and territories.

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