WIAA 100: Outstanding leader on-farm
MARGOT Black wears many hats, often all at once.
Mother, wife, packing shed manager, book keeper, HR manager – and at least twice a year, long haul driver.
Every June and November, she and husband Mike pack up their four kids, three dogs and two cats and make the 3400-kilometre trek between their properties at Oakey on Queensland’s Darling Downs and Douglas Daly in the
Most people would pale at the thought.
(One bloke they encountered at a service station at Cloncurry glanced wearily at their load and asked Mike where they were headed. When he heard the answer was the Territory, he responded: “gee, I’m going to Brisbane, do you want to bail out and come with me?”.)
For the Blacks, it’s just part of the (sometimes crazy) watermelon growing adventure they call life.
“It’s just what we do – we all have a choice, we can all choose what we do,” Margot says.
“For us, it’s about keeping our family together and growing our business.”
When the Douglas Daly property came onto the market in 2007, Margot was pregnant with their fourth child.
Only the year before, they’d bought a 530-hectare property at Oakey ideally suited for melons as a new base for their Ruby Red Farming business.
But having previously grown melons on a leased block nearby in the Territory and knowing the potential of the country and the abundance of water available, the couple knew it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“We thought ‘well, we know the area, we love it and it will give us almost yearround production, let’s do it. We only live once’.”
Margot says there was no doubting it would be a challenge.
“But we both thrive on a challenge, we thrive on setting a goal and achieving it.”
Ruby Red Farming is now one of the country’s biggest seedless watermelon growers, producing between 10,000 and 15,000 tonnes of melons from its two farms and with fruit on the market for about 10 months of the year.
And just to keep life interesting, they recently put in their first commercial planting of bananas at Douglas Daly which they’ll start harvesting in November.
For the Blacks, the year is split into two distinct seasons.
From December to June, the family is based on their Oakey property, “Ruby Downs”.
But come July, they head north to the Douglas Daly property, “Early Storms”, for their second big harvest.
It means not just packing up the family but loading multiple triple road trains with some of the key machinery plant, chemicals and fertiliser.
Their road train is permanently either carting supplies in or melons out to market.
Margot says she and Mike have always approached the business as a 50:50 partnership though both have distinct roles.
Mike looks after the growing and marketing and the enormous logistical task involved in getting supplies in and getting their fruit to market.
But when the fruit hits the packing shed, Margot takes the reins.
She runs the packing shed at both locations – a role she stepped back into fulltime a year after the birth of their fourth child.
“I just knew we could tweak it that little bit more and make things more consistent and really nail it as far as presentation and quality goes,” Margot says.
“We’re all about achieving a good name and maintaining it. First impressions last.”
Their melons are now distributed under the Ruby Red name into every capital city in the country with a small volume also exported to New Zealand.
Margot concedes their life is hectic.
“There’s plenty of times we live on little sleep – and we’re the first to admit we’re not sure we’ve quite got the work-life balance correct.
“But at the same time, we’ve always thought ‘let’s go hard for a bit and see how we go’.
“Our belief is step up or step aside.”
She says their children – Jessica, 11, Amelia, 9, Dominic, 7 and Rory, 5 – love the business as much as they do and all contribute in different ways.
“I think I’m passionate but our youngest, Rory, can’t get enough of being in the packing shed or out with Mike in the ute – and they love the change too.”
Asked if they prefer living in the NT or Qld, Margot says their children struggle to pick.
“They can’t choose – they love both. The lives they lead are so completely different in the two places.”
At Oakey, their local school has 20 students. At Douglas Daly, it has 11 – and they’re 4 of them.
Very occasionally, Margot snares a quiet moment to reflect on how far they’ve come since they grew their first crop of melons – four children and 13 years ago.
“Sometimes I wonder how I do it – but I do it and I do it happily.
“I do it because I’m so passionate about what we do, I’m passionate about our family and keeping us together and I’m passionate about our business.
“I believe most Australian farmers are like this – they are passionate, dedicated and determined.
“We live and breathe it.”