The Truffle Change

EPA Referral Update
October 30, 2019

 

About 12 years ago Paul and Rose made a bold and brave move, they were living in Perth and were growing tired of asphalt, concrete and traffic and wanted to live somewhere with clean air, fewer people and a sense of community. They decided to work towards establishing a country-based business while they kept their city-based jobs. Some friends of theirs in New Zealand were starting a truffle orchard and this got them interested in the industry.  Rose also has a keen interest in fungi which helped them make the decision to go ahead and find a block of land primarily for growing truffle.

Neither Paul nor Rose had a farming background.  Paul’s academic background was initially in Antarctic geology and Rose’s was in the biological sciences with laboratory-based research into animal and later human health. The move was based around them wanting to live on acreage and develop an agricultural/horticultural business. At the time they had no idea about of the magnitude of what they were proposing to do. By their own admission, they have learned a lot along the way and have certainly made mistakes and done some things the hard way.

For the first seven years they continued to live in Perth and worked on the farm whenever they were able. They moved to the region full time in 2016 and haven’t looked back.

Truffle orchards generally take more than a decade to provide sufficient harvest to be economic so it is a long wait with much uncertainty. In the future Rose and Paul have ambitions to run truffle hunts in the season and add an agri-tourism component to the business. The plan being that the orchard will (hopefully) earn enough income to allow them to continue to live in Manjimup on their beautiful and peaceful rural setting.

They have two dogs which are also on a truffle journey: Harry a kelpie-labrador cross, a capable but reluctant truffle hunter and Flynn, a black Labrador who at the age of three is still developing his truffle hunting skills.

Paul and Rose are both very interested in the CSIRO climate modelling that has been done for south west WA. They feel that all the reports seem to be pointing to the same thing: that the south west area of WA is at the forefront of climate change and declining rainfall. The reports that the couple have read also indicate that change will occur in the region at a rate faster than almost anywhere else in the world. Rose states that recent history shows a trend of rapid change – since the 1970s there has been a 15 to 20 percent decrease in rainfall in the area and this will continue to fall.

Their on-farm dam, which is spring fed and captures run-off, has a thirty-five megalitre capacity. This amount of water is sufficient to water their truffle orchard and may even get them through two low rainfall years if used with care. The problem is that they are water limited in what they can grow. They couldn’t, for example, put in an avocado crop or even extra truffle-inoculated trees because they could not rely on their limited water supply to keep the trees alive. They have sufficient land to diversify into other crops but are currently water limited.

Paul and Rose regard having extra water delivered by the Southern Forest Irrigation Scheme as a great opportunity to future-proof their farm and hopefully provide water to be more reliably productive and diverse their farm outputs. For this aspiring pair, the opportunity to access more water for on-farm use means their business will be more resilient in the face of declining rainfall and their farm will, hopefully, have a more sustainable future.