Kalfresh Vegetables, farm into multi-million dollar business

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Hinrichsen transformed farm into multi-million dollar business

WHEN it comes to exerting some vegie might, there’s few that do it with more precision than the Hinrichsen family from southeast Queensland.

In the space of just 25 years, father-and-son Barry and Robert Hinrichsen have grown their Kalfresh Vegetables enterprise from humble beginnings into a multi-million dollar business that not just grows fresh vegetables, but packs and markets them for customers across Australia and overseas.

Centred on the family’s 202ha carrot farm near Kalbar, in Queensland’s picturesque Fassifern Valley, Kalfresh now draws from up to 1620ha of land in four growing regions, producing 30,000 tonnes of carrots, beans, pumpkins and onions annually from their state-of-the-art processing facility.

The Hinrichsens have also been not afraid to looking outside the square, introducing a range of fresh pre-packaged vegetables — to muscle in on the “snack” market — that are now sold in more than 650 Woolworths stores across Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

Further, they’ve ventured into the carrot beer market, one of many innovations that last year led to Robert being named Ausveg’s Grower of the Year.


KALFRESH operates over four growing regions — the Fassifern and Lockyer valleys and Stanthorpe, in southeast Queensland, and around Bowen, north of Mackay in northern Queensland — which Robert said allowed for geographic diversity, water security and the ability to produce crops year round.

They grow their own vegetables and work with “a handful of (farmer) suppliers”.

The Lockyer Valley and Stanthorpe operations are primarily used for the summer growing of carrots and beans, with a joint venture at Bowen allowing for the winter production of pumpkins and beans.

Kalfresh introduced onions to the mix in 2003 and is now one of Queensland’s biggest producers of red and brown onions in the November to January supply period.

Robert said the home farm, at Kalbar, was ideal for vegetable growing, with fertile alluvial soils and a temperate climate.

“It is really great soil,” he said. “We’re on the coastal plain so we don’t the really bad winters they get on the Darling Downs, so we can grow crops right throughout the winter without any real problems. And we probably get a bit more reliable rainfall.”

Kalbar receives about 750mm of rainfall a year and can be subject to floods.


ROBERT said the business suffered relatively minimal damage from a flood in 2011 that caused significant devastation in nearby Toowoomba and Grantham.

It was, however, a different story in January 2013, when a major flood hit just as the Hinrichsens “had all our land worked up; it was very dry, it hadn’t rained for five weeks, and the whole farm was just a picture — it was all hilled up ready to plant”.

“One of our neighbours’ farms  didn’t have a skerrick left on it, everything down to the plough mark was gone. And I mean gone,” he said. “We have floods here where it runs off the creek and the soil will be down up against the (Cunningham) highway and you get a laser bucket and take it back up again. (But) this was in Moreton Bay.

“We lost pumps, powerpoles and starters, everything went down the creek.”

Robert said about a third of the Hinrichsen property was “irreparable  completely destroyed” with another third requiring laserwork to bring it back up to scratch.


THE Hinrichsens, and business partner and chief executive Richard Gorman, make all the decisions, from seed selection through to harvest, packing and distribution.

Robert said carrots were the “bread and butter” of the business, which meant “everything revolves around them”. In 2011, Kalfresh released its luminous carrot variety, developed to better suit Australian growing conditions, in conjunction with Harvest Moon in Tasmania.

Carrots are planted as seeds into raised beds and take about 110 days to grow before being harvested by a machine that which lifts them from the ground by their green tops.

They are then transferred to the factory, where they are washed and cooled to ensure they remain fresh and crunchy.

Carrots work on a one-year in four rotation. Robert said a good rotation was carrots after onions and beans “squeezed in”. “We try to not do two bean crops in the one year, which we can do, but it isn’t good for disease,” he said. “We try and break the vegie rotation. We grow maize for silage chop for dairy farmers or let it go through for grain. Whatever the market is, we do chickpeas, barley.”


All crops are watered by irrigation, supplied by the “reliable” Lake Moogerah at the head of the Fassifern Valley.


KALFRESH introduced its Just Veg range, branded as a convenient and healthy alternative for snacks, salads, sandwiches, cakes, soups, stews and stir fries, with the “time-poor” consumer in mind.

The range includes bags of carrot sticks, carrot shred and carrot coins and is sold exclusively through 650 Woolworths stores in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. Most Kalfresh produce is sold through the major supermarkets, with exports enjoying “a bit of resurgence” recently, which Robert said meant that “maybe this whole hungry Asia thing is starting to come through”.

“For all the talk that gets said about it, we’re certainly not living that reality,” he said.

“The whole produce game is pretty bloody tough and you’ve seen a lot of big and good operators go broke in the past five years,” he said, citing rising electricity prices as a major concern for the business.

Robert said carrot production in the region had consolidated from “more than 30 little family operations scattered down the valley to two”.

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