RED lentils form a central role in the cropping rotation of Skeet and Phillipa Lawson, Pinnaroo, but it was searching for a suitable market that encouraged them to consider a more paddock-to-plate approach.
Earlier this year, the Lawsons established The Pinnaroo Farmer to market the red lentils they grew as flour.
"We think Australians should eat more of our home-grown produce," Mrs Lawson said. "For us, the kids see us grow it, but we don't use (lentils) much, in our own kitchen."
Mrs Lawson said milling it as flour seemed a good way to get the benefits of the high-protein product, and make it more versatile - even for fussy eaters.
She said they had looked at other options of marketing their lentils.
"We rang up places that provide lentils in supermarkets and they were importing theirs," she said.
"We grow it just four hours down the road."
She said the COVID-19 outbreak also contributed to a movement in support of Australian-grown produce.
It was a chance conversation during lunch at the Thriving Women's Conference at Hahndorf in February, that helped the Lawsons turn their idea of marketing their own red lentil flour into reality.
While speaking with another attendee, Mrs Lawson was encouraged to apply for the Farmers2Founders Program.
As well as a $3000 grant, the 12-week biannual program aimed at primary producers gave them access to business tools and coaching, including a mentor.
Mrs Lawson described it as "bringing the ideas from the paddock into the market place".
"We had a lot of accountability - we met with our mentor by Zoom every fortnight, and had tasks to do before each meeting," she said.
This helped them create their business plan and move the idea forward.
Mrs Lawson said even though the 12 weeks had passed, they have had plenty of support, including regular check ins.
Mr Lawson said the program enabled them to build their concept.
"We could not have achieved what we have in that short amount of time (without them)," he said.
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Mr Lawson said red lentils had been a consistent performer, even during the recent tough seasons - with the 2019 harvest performing better than 2018, on similar rainfall.
He said another benefit was its higher frost tolerance, compared to other pulse crops, which proved useful in their region.
It is the only pulse they grow, in a rotation alongside wheat and barley. They also grow oats for export hay.
Mr Lawson said the crop formed a critical role in fixing Nitrogen, but also helped conserve moisture.
"We've seen it make a huge difference in our first cereals (in the rotation)," he said.
The red lentils are sown in the first week of May and are the first crop ready to go at harvest.
They are then stored on-farm, while their wheat and barley is sold through regular avenues.
The Lawsons have bought a domestic miller and leased a space for a shop in Pinnaroo, which will open this month.
Mrs Lawson said a major market was people seeking out gluten-free products.
"Because we grow wheat and barley, we have to make sure the process meets those standards," she said.
"We do a bit batch of milling then that batch gets tested for gluten.
"There seems to be demand for another gluten-free flour with very high protein."
Mrs Lawson said they had been using the red lentil flour in their own cooking and were surprised how versatile it was.
"We've used it in scones and cakes for our kids' lunchboxes, and in pasta sauces," she said.
"We grow such a great quality lentil and product, why don't we use it? So we found a way to use it."
Mrs Lawson said they picked the named The Pinnaroo Farmer carefully, and hope one day the business could expand further to include other growers in the region, as another market option.
- Details: thepinnaroofarmer.com.au
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