IF Maryann Salvetti sets her mind to achieve something, you can bet she will. And this is no doubt why she was nominated as one of the inaugural Women in Australian Agribusiness 100.
The latest reward is just one of a swathe the Melbourne-born and raised teacher’s aide has collected over the past few decades working as a primary producer on Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands. But as she tells it, opportunities have just fallen in her lap.
“When you do something you like, you just do it,” she explains matter of factly.
The truth is, Maryann has passion and drive and when the fire is in the belly, nothing will stop her.
Along with being a wife, a mother of three and grandmother of four, she is an active and knowledgeable producer of sugar cane, she runs her own commercial seed business and is highly involved in her local community.
Much of this has come about because she and her husband, Denis, have been strong advocates for diversification when it comes to farming.
Walking the talk saw the Salvettis sell the family farm – three generations of peanut growing – to take advantage of the drier areas of the Tablelands where a variety of different crops could be grown.
While Rocky Creek, Tolga, is the main farm, the family is buying more land further to the north and west. The two sons manage the farm, and Maryann’s daughter helps out once a week with the business accounts.
“Our core business is still seeds.”
North Queensland Tropical Seeds is a wholesale, processing and exporting company supplying seed to both the domestic and international markets.
This came about when Maryann saw a gap in the market and was able to position the business as a stable and ready supplier.
“We probably led the way because we put in a seed grading plant and then started to find markets.
“We would talk to growers and talk about growing this and that – they were very forthcoming – and growers in my area were always looking for opportunity.”
These days the family grows about 25 different crops for the business.
On top of that, she is a staunch and vocal advocate for cane growers and this has seen her serve as the chair of Tableland Sugar Services, a director of Tableland Canegrowers, Queensland Sugar, a board member of the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (BSES) and Tableland Contracting Services, Tanita and secretary/public officer of Tableland Sugar.
According to Maryann, her involvement was almost an accident.
“In the mid-90s there was a group of growers including my husband who looked into the possibility of setting up a mill on the Tablelands.”
The nearest mill was in Mossman, and the freight was a killer.
“The guys would meet in the entertainment area of the house and my ears would be flapping.
“We needed to set up a group, but we needed money and I wasn’t busy at the time. My husband asked me at the time if I could be manager, and I said, yeah, why not!”
Denis eventually gave up his position on the committee to run their business and from there Maryann was instrumental in setting up the Bundaberg Sugar Company mill at Mareeba. It opened in 1998.
While looking after her three young children, she co-ordinated the setting up of 50 new cane farms to supply the mill.
Ironically, the situation has turned full circle and with the mill foreign owned, Maryann is now leading the charge to move growers back to the Mossman mill.
“It’s about getting enough money for our product and the fact we are back to an Australian-owned mill.”
Her passion for the industry has seen her being awarded ABC Rural Woman of the Year, the Atherton Shire Australia Citizen of the Year and in 2001 the Centenary Medal. She also won a bursary that enabled her to attend the Second International Women in 1998.
Her biggest success, however, is having her children become a part of the business, she says.
Because the farm has been run as a business, Maryann and Denis were able to send their children away to be educated – her eldest son Jason is a mechanical engineer, daughter Deb is a chartered accountant and youngest son Steven is a fitter and turner.
Now they are back.
“It is more enjoyable when you can share your achievement,” Maryann says.
The Women in Australian Agribusiness 100 is a joint initiative of Emerald Grain and Fairfax Agricultural Media supported by Syngenta.
Read more of our 100’s stories here.