Changing the farming paradigm

Newly appointed BCG Board Member, renowned chef and restaurateur Stefano de Pieri, hopes to change the farming paradigm of the Wimmera Mallee and that’s just the beginning.

“There is a disconnect about what is being produced and how it is being consumed. We are very good at producing and then rely on others to move it. Australians want to embrace Australian grown but we’ve got to let them know. You buy a bag of minestrone now and it could have been made with Mallee grain but at the moment you wouldn’t know it.  

“Let’s develop the Wimmera Mallee identity, yes there is wide open spaces but we can be so much more.

“I want to add layers and layers of expression, a strong sense of place and the idea of self sufficiency, using food to create a window to the Wimmera Mallee. Think Kennett and the vanilla slice: make the food farmers produce a tourist attraction.”

Practically Stefano is thinking Wimmera Mallee pulses but also lamb being used to open communication with consumers, in particular tourists captured in Wimmera Mallee towns on their way north or west (Broken Hill, Flinders Ranges, Lake Mungo, etc).

“Imagine if they could stop and taste something of the place, it doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive it just has to be real.”

Stefano understands it will take time but believes it is not unachievable and he is no stranger to seeing his courageous visions to fruition. Stefano was born in Treviso, near Venice. He migrated to Australia in 1974. Stefano attended Melbourne University where he graduated in Politics and Italian Studies. He edited Nuovo Paese an Italian fortnightly newspaper, worked as a private secretary to Minister Peter Spyker and then as a ministerial adviser.  Stefano and his wife Donata created the award-winning Italian restaurant Stefanos from a rundown pub in Mildura. He wrote A Gondola on the Murray which later became a television series of the same name. He is also working on the SBS Television 10 part series titled Australia’s Food Bowl. Stefano founded the Mildura Writers Festival and has numerous professional memberships and awards.

“It seems pie in the sky but for example we could be growing wheat that is specifically used for baguettes. The Wimmera Mallee could be known as baguette land like the Champagne province in France. All these things take time but magic can be done.

“You need an instrument to make this happen and with the support of the board, BCG is perfectly poised to shift the paradigm of farming, both in the Wimmera Mallee and beyond.”

BCG Chairman John Ferrier said board members were pleased to have Stefano take on the casual vacancy appointment. “Stefano De Pieri is a highly respected restauranteur and advocate for the Wimmera Mallee. We are looking forward to having Stefano with his vision, energy and passion for our region and the food we produce on our board and working with him and our members to achieve, in Stefano’s words, ‘magic’.”

Greg Kuchel

John is also pleased to announce Greg Kuchel, Rural Bank’s Regional Manager of Agribusiness Western Victoria, has been appointed to fill the co-opted member vacancy created by the retirement of Peter Myers.

“Through his role at Rural Bank, Greg is very familiar with the farm businesses and the people of our region. Greg is also involved as Vice Chair of Swan Hill District Health Board as well as a number of their committees. His strong analytical financial skills will be invaluable to our organisation,” John said.

Greg has had a long association with BCG. “To see an organisation make such a difference to the Wimmera Mallee over the last 20 years I’m chuffed to be chosen to be involved.  I have always admired the innovative and fiercely independent work that the group does to enhance farmers’ productivity at a practical level and the on flowing impact to regional and rural communities,” Greg said.

Greg is passionate about the prosperity of farmers across the region. “Through my 20 plus years in agri banking through all parts of Western Victoria including Warrnambool, Mildura and Swan Hill I’ve seen the ups and downs of farming and the resilience of farmers.

“Twenty years ago the seasons were far more reliable and regular. We now see how much farming practices have had to change in the last 20 years to cope with the change and variability. It is phenomenal. As a BCG Board Member I want to work with farmers on the next improvements for the coming 20 years.

 “In 2014 and 2015 I saw a number of farmers go backwards pretty quickly in a very short period of time. I hope as a BCG Board Member we can continue to help farmers make the right decision at the right time at a farm level and at a financial level. That’s where my passion is. It’s easy to make decisions when things are good but it’s hard to make decisions when things aren’t great because you haven’t got too many options. The decisions you make now can set you up to get through those poor seasons to come…”

Greg grew up on a dairy farm in South Australia. He has a Bachelor and a Masters of Agribusiness and is a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program.

 “I know first-hand that farmers are so important not just for food production but for regional communities. BCG pairs these two passions of mine together perfectly and I’m exciting to be able to contribute to such a respected group,” Greg said.

The announcements follow an extensive recruitment process that generated 25 high quality applicants.

These appointments follow the recent re-election of Dr Cherie Reilly and Simon Craig at the recent AGM.

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