Best of the best NSW produce

Prime yields: cool-climate apples.Many years ago, wheat farmer Doug Cush was in Italy selling wheat. When a buyer for one of the large pasta manufacturers asked him where he was from, Cush told him somewhere between Narrabri and Moree in the north-west of NSW.
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”Aah, Bellata,” said the Italian buyer.

”How could he have known that?” Cush says. ”Bellata is tiny. There’s only 400 people in the district and 100 people in town, and that’s probably an exaggeration.”

What the Italian buyer knew about this small Australian farming community was that it produced some of the world’s best durum wheat.

Northern NSW is prime hard wheat-growing country. With a gluten count of between 40 and 50 per cent – much higher than soft wheat used in bread and biscuit-making – hard wheat is the key to good pasta.

Cush would never have contemplated growing anything else. ”What you aim to do as a farmer is look to the land and climate,” he says. ”We don’t try to grow biscuit flour because the climate here is wrong.”

NSW abounds with places that have become synonymous with the food grown there. Mention Bilpin or Batlow and you’ll get ”apples” in response. These cool-climate growing areas, along with Orange in the NSW central west, make NSW the second-highest apple producer in the country after Victoria. (Who knew we produce more apples than Tasmania, the Apple Isle?)

When it comes to potatoes you’re talking Dorrigo on the Northern Tablelands and Robertson in the Southern Highlands.

”Go into any fruit and vegetable shop on the east coast of NSW and the best looking potato on the shelf will be a Robertson potato,” says John Hill, Robertson potato farmer.

Like all farmland close to Sydney, Robertson has come under intense pressure from rising land prices and over the years the number of potato growers has fallen from 40 to three. With 60 hectares under cultivation, the Hill family – three generations are involved in the farm – is the largest grower in the district.

At the other end of the spectrum is Norman Gair, who decided 10 years ago to stay small and grow exclusively for farmers’ markets. He and partner Robyn Jackson grow 42 varieties of potato on their Robertson farm, including Toolangi delights and Otway reds.

”The iron-rich ferrosols that you find in Robertson have the advantage of a fine microstructure that doesn’t impede growth or drainage,” says Damien Field, senior lecturer at Sydney University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. ”It’s a soil prized for potato production.”

Think milk and the south coast immediately springs to mind. ”Dairy cows originated out of places like Jersey and Guernsey,” Picton dairy farmer John Fairley says. ”They do better in cool climates. Which is not to say you can’t dairy farm anywhere else, but the south coast has traditionally done well in dairying. They have the climate, regular rainfall and good pasture.”

When Ridley Bell relocated from Victoria to northern NSW in 1979, it was in search of the ideal combination of rich soil and subtropical climate to grow blueberries. He found it at Lindenvale, between Lismore and Ballina, and thereby introduced a new horticulture industry to the region.

In the 1970s there was a lot of change in what was formerly dairy and pork country. Plantings of other new crops, such as avocado and macadamias, were greeted with scepticism. But decades on, both industries have proved themselves.

”There are very few places in Australia, or even the world, that have the all-important combination of subtropical weather, high rainfall, warm winter temperature and rich volcanic soil,” says Martin Brook, who, with his wife Pam, founded Brookfarm macadamia farm. The Brooks selected a property near Byron Bay and, with an understandable bias, believe the region produces the best-tasting nuts.

Another fairly recent horticultural innovation in Australia is the olive, which grows well in NSW.

”The regions growing olives don’t stop at borders,” says olive grower Robert Armstrong, from Crookwell, on the west-facing slopes of the Great Diving Range.

With about 30,000 hectares devoted to olives, Australia is a minnow compared with the world’s biggest oil producers, Spain and Italy, Armstrong says. But it’s the flavour and freshness of the oils produced here that counts. Armstrong credits the cold Crookwell nights for the robust flavours found in his Alto olives and oil.

Cold nights and frost are essential to growing good raspberries, which is why they do so well in the Southern Highlands.

Nicki and David Penn have been growing raspberries on their Cuttaway Creek farm near Mittagong since 2002. ”Dave’s father used to buy raspberries from this farm to make jam that he would bring to Sydney when he visited us,” says Nicki Penn.

What they don’t sell during the fresh raspberry season (February-March), they turn into vinegar, jams and sauces. All have picked up awards at the Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart Fine Food shows, testament to the quality of the raw ingredients and Nicki’s skill in the kitchen.

Jenny Bradley, a lamb grower from Armatree, north of Dubbo, is a member of the longest-running producer-owned co-operative in Australia, the Tooraweenah Prime Lamb Marketing Co-operative. She believes anywhere is lamb country. Along with beef farming, lamb producing has a long and proud history in NSW.

Peter Strelitz of Milly Hill Lamb agrees: ”We do lamb well throughout NSW – New England, Cowra, Wellington.”

Both producers cite genetics, management of soil and pasture and animal welfare as integral to producing good-quality lambs.

And what about seafood? The New South Wales coast, says consultant John Susman from Fisheads Seafood Strategy, is home to the oyster he considers the greatest on the planet, the Sydney rock. ”It’s unique in that it is grown all along the coast yet tastes different because it reflects the growing conditions in each region.”

Also on Susman’s most-wanted list are king prawns from northern NSW – close to the continental shelf where prawns thrive in the cold, deep water – along with school prawns and the eastern rock lobster.Outstanding in the field

Apples

From Batlow, Bilpin and Orange

Try Mirrabooka Farm, orangeapples爱上海同城论坛m.au

Blueberries

From Coffs Harbour and Northern Rivers

Try Mountain Blue Farms, mountainblue爱上海同城论坛m.au

Durum wheat

From Bellata

Try Bellata Gold durum wheat flour and semolina, bellatagold爱上海同城论坛m.au

Hazelnuts

From Mudgee and Orange

Try Australian Gourmet Hazelnuts, gourmethazelnuts爱上海同城论坛m.au

Lamb

From all over – New England, Cowra, Wellington and the north-west

Try Milly Hill Lamb, millyhill爱上海同城论坛m.au

Macadamia nuts

From Northern Rivers and Nambucca

Try Jelbonleigh Estate, jelbonleigh爱上海同城论坛m.au

Milk

From South Coast

Try Tilba Real Milk, southcoastcheese爱上海同城论坛m.au

Olive oil

From all over – Crookwell, Mudgee, Forbes

Try Rylstone Olive Press olive oil, rylstoneolivepress爱上海同城论坛m.au

Potatoes

From Robertson and Dorrigo

Try Highland Gourmet Potatoes. See Norm and Robyn at Pyrmont Growers’ Market

Raspberries

From cool climates such as Southern Highlands and Orange

Try Cuttaway Creek Raspberry Farm, cuttawaycreek爱上海同城论坛m.au

Sydney rock oysters

From Tweed Heads to Merimbula

Try Tathra Oysters, tathraoysters爱上海同城论坛m.au

Truffles

From Jindabyne, Southern Highlands and central west

Try Lowes Mount Truffiere, lowesmounttruffles爱上海同城论坛m.au

You can explore the best of NSW produce at the NSW Food and Wine Festival – nswfoodandwine爱上海同城论坛m.au.

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Bumper profits push market to higher close

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A strong interim profit result from Australia’s biggest resource company, BHP Billiton, has lifted the local stock exchange, offsetting some earnings disappointments.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 9.9 points, or 0.2 per cent, on Tuesday to 5392.8, while the broader All Ordinaries Index added 0.1 per cent to 5402.2, as investors focused on a mixed bag of half-year company earnings reports.

There was no overnight lead from Wall Street, after markets in the United States were closed on Monday for the President’s Day public holiday. In the afternoon session a spike in Japan’s Nikkei following comments from the Bank of Japan was positive for sentiment.

Shares and the dollar were both supported by the release of minutes from the Reserve bank of Australia’s February policy meeting, which confirmed the central bank is likely to keep the official cash rate on hold at its record low of 2.5 per cent for many months.

BHP Billiton gained 2.3 per cent to $38.89 after beating expectations with a 69.4 per cent rise in interim net profit compared to the first half of last financial year. The company also continued to reduce costs and improve cashflow.

The resources giant did not lift its interim dividend by as much as some in the market had hoped, however, the chief executive Andrew Mackenzie flagged investors can expect higher capital returns at the end of the year.

“It is still early in reporting season, but so far most results from the large caps have been well received with share prices getting a lift,” Invesco Australia portfolio manager Nicole Schuderl said.

“Returning cash to shareholders is likely to remain a major focus as reporting season continues,” Ms Schuderl said. “Reducing costs will also continue as another area of focus, especially for mining and resources companies.”

Mining was the best-performing sector, up 1 per cent, boosted by the BHP result and strong iron ore and coal prices.

Rio Tinto rose 1.9 per cent to a near 12 month high at $70.88 as the spot price for iron ore, landed in China, rose for the fourth day in a row to $US124.40 a tonne.

The big four banks were split. Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.2 per cent to $74.53 despite trading without the right to its $1.83 interim dividend on Monday.

Westpac Banking Corporation dipped 0.2 per cent to $32.86, ANZ Banking Group rose 0.1 per cent to $31.64, and National Australia Bank gained 0.8 per cent to $35.04 ahead of providing a quarterly update later in the week.

Telstra Corporation rose 0.2 per cent to $5.23. It was reported the telecommunications giant is set to axe 400 jobs from its Sensis directories business later this week.

Coca-Cola Amatil lost 5.3 per cent to $11.22 after departing chief executive Terry Davis delivered the company’s weakest profit result in nearly two decades. Slimmer profit margins on soft drinks and a $400 million write-down on fruit canning business SPC Ardmona contributed to a 82.5 per cent slump in interim net profit.

Packaging company Amcor fell 4.2 per cent to $10.33 despite showing interim net profit rose 21.9 per cent and flagging up to $2 billion worth of possible acquisitions.

Expectations for contractors to the mining and energy industry are low this reporting season due to a slump in demand from new projects. Three resource services companies surprised the market with better than expected interim results.

Monadelphous Group was the best-performing stock in the ASX 200, climbing 9.7 per cent to $17.10 after reporting a record half-year profit of $87.1 million, up 10.1 per cent on the previous corresponding period. MacMahon Holdings added 12 per cent to 14¢ after showing a new Mongolian contract helped it return to profitability in the half-year ended December. RCR Tomlinson rose 2 per cent to $2.98 after posting a 14.2 per cent increase in interim net profit and upping its interim dividend.

Other stocks that advanced following the release of half-year results included Challenger Ltd and Sirtex Medical.

Financial services group Challenger Ltd rose 3.3 per cent to a record $6.61 after showing a 25 per cent rise in interim net profit compared to the previous corresponding period.

Drug developer Sirtex Medical added 3.8 per cent to $14.96 after showing a 43.6 per cent rise in interim net profit. The company said results of a clinical trial into the broader application of its radioactive liver cancer treatment that were due for release in 2014 have been delayed until early 2015.

Pacific Brands was the worst-performing stock in the ASX 200, dumping 9 per cent to 65.5¢ after reporting a net loss of $219 million for the first half of fiscal 2014, compared to a $38.9 million profit in the previous corresponding period. The company sells iconic Australian clothing and footwear labels including Bonds, Volley, and Stubbies. Sales were up for the first time in five years but a $252 million write down linked to its struggling workwear division slugged the bottom line.

Other stocks that declined following the release of interim reports included Sonic Healthcare, Seven West Media, Asciano, and Arrium.

Pathology and radiology clinic operator Sonic Healthcare dipped 0.5 per cent to $16.90 despite narrowly beating analyst expectations for interim net profit.

Seven West Media lost 1.8 per cent to $2.14 after showing interim revenue dipped 1.1 per cent.

Asciano dipped 0.4 per cent to $5.74 after unveiling plans to merge its coal haulage and rail freight divisions as it reported a 4 per cent slip in first-half net profit.

Arrium (formerly OneSteel) fell 2 per cent to $1.75 despite interim net profit rebounded to $220 million, up from a $448 million loss in the previous corresponding period that had featured hefty write-downs.

Transport and logistics company McAleese crashed 34.6 per cent to an all time low of 72¢ after emerging from a trading halt to warn the market it now expects a $37.9 million loss for the current half-year period due to troubles with its Cootes Transport division. The stock debuted at $1.47 in November.

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Australian Jana Pittman ready to contest the bobsled with Astrid Radjenovic

Jana Pittman is happy, because this time there is no Jana Drama.
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Remember that? Jana Drama?

That’s the force of nature that often comes in like a bitter cold front before every major competition she ever competed in as a 400 metres runner.

Normally, the Jana Drama involves injuries. How many of those have we ridden with her?

From the blown knee cartilage before the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the sight of her being pursued by the media pack as she hobbled around on crutches, to the toe injury that kept her away from Beijing four years later, to another foot injury that finally ended her athletics career before London four years after that.

The Jana Drama was hard for Jana Pittman to ignore after she completed her final training session with Astrid Radjenovic in the women’s two-man bobsled in Sochi on Sunday morning.

”The biggest thing for me is that I got here injury free,” she said on a cold morning at the Sanki Sliding Centre. ”I lost the last two Olympics because of injury. Actually, it’s the last three. To be able to finish the last training session and know I am putting my spikes on in two days time, with nothing wrong, is phenomenal. So I’m very grateful for this lady.”

She says this pointing to Radjenovic, who has often been the forgotten part of Pittman’s incredible comeback story that will see her become the first female athlete to compete at the summer and winter Games for Australia.

Asked if she is surprised to be reflecting on her former, drama-filled life as a track athlete, she said: ”I can’t not. We’re at the Olympics. I’m pretty lucky. I’ve been given a real gift and a second chance. I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life. Even if I never go to another Olympics, to finish on a high together would be great. It doesn’t matter what the result is. The fact that we got here after all we’ve been through in the last year, and what this one [Radjenovic] has done for seven years, it’s just fantastic. I could retire happy if I did.”

Of course, the Jana Drama extends beyond the injuries.

From fallouts with former relay team member Tamsyn Lewis, to her on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again relationship with English athlete Chris Rawlinson that was dragged through the women’s magazines, to stories about her removing breast implants to improve her athletic career.

The Australian public, which can be as fickle and dramatic as she could be, fell out of love with Pittman very quickly.

In an interview with ABC Radio in 2011, she admitted: ”You know, I have made so many mistakes and so many of them have been written out, you know, through the public. You know, boobs in, boobs out, divorced, remarried, divorced. Like it’s, it’s quite comical when I look back on it really … So I guess the situation is that I’m the bad girl and that’s it.”

The shame of it is beneath the Jana Drama lies a pure athlete called Jana Pittman, who has as much defiance and ability as any we’ve seen.

In 2003, at the age of 20, she was the youngest person to win the world championship in the 400 hurdles. She won it again in 2007. If not for injury, an Olympic gold medal would likely be hers, given her ability in the event.

When she abandoned athletics, she tried her hand at boxing and rowing, and then bobsleigh.

In her role as brakeman, she does most of the heavy pushing at the start.

She has subsequently whacked on 11 kilograms thanks to the combination of heavy lifting and more than enough protein shakes, meat and carbs to fuel a footy team. The result: she has the legs of an NFL linebacker.

”You eat for Australia,” she laughed.

Don’t go expecting medals, Australia, from Pittman and Radjenovic, although they finished ninth in their final training session.

”We’re realistic,” says Radjenovic. ”Tenth to 15th is where we would plan to finish. We could sneak into the top 10 if we have a great few days. We’ll wait and see.”

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What Coke needs now is more spritz

Illustration: John Spooner.After 12 years at the helm of Coca-Cola Amatil, Terry Davis will deliver his swansong on Tuesday with hundreds of millions of dollars expected to be written off his beleaguered SPC Ardmona acquisition.
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It comes days after he managed to stitch together a $22 million deal with the Victorian government to keep SPC Ardmona from sinking.

Davis would have hoped for a more upbeat profit result, given it will be his last, but the market had changed and he ran out of time.

Instead of leaving the write-downs to his successor, Alison Watkins, who joins next month, Davis will do it himself. Between $400 million and $500 million could be written off SPC and other underperforming businesses. Davis bought SPC for $650 million, along with some other services businesses.

The write-downs, a weaker dollar and some big private label contract wins from Woolworths and Coles will give SPC a standing start when Watkins takes the reins.

But on Tuesday Davis will be left to report a set of 2013 results that are lower than last year’s. In a trading update last year he warned that earnings could be between 5 and 7 per cent lower than last year’s.

While some of the slump in earnings can be blamed on SPC, some is due to structural changes that need to be dealt with.

To put it into perspective, the latest Nielsen results reveal that CCA’s soft-drink category, water and sports/energy drinks were all down during a very warm summer. According to a report by Deutsche Bank, CCA underperformed in the soft-drinks category in the December quarter in volume and value. In water, Water CCA declined 1.8 per cent in the face of strong category growth, which was up almost 9 per cent, due to private label share gains. The group’s sports/energy sales dived 5.3 per cent. “We remain cautious that the persistent volume weakness is structural,” Deutsche says.

For investors, the results will be a side issue as they wait to see how Watkins can grow the business, and the executives who report to her.

One executive expected to depart sooner rather than later is Warwick White, the head of the group’s Australasian business, who has spent more than 28 years in the global Coca-Cola system and who got pipped by Watkins for the top job. This column speculated last week that he is a contender for the top job at Treasury Wine Estates.

Watkins is well regarded and highly credentialled but growing CCA will be challenging, as Davis knows, having generated double-digit growth for eight of his 12 full-year profit reports. The longer he was there, the harder it got.

CCA is now back in beer, albeit in a small way. How that will pan out is anybody’s guess given the beer industry is becoming more competitive as the big two players, Lion and Carlton & United Breweries, continue to dominate, the supermarkets have the power to negotiate down on prices and there has been a surge in craft beer operators.

CCA’s Australian business – which is the lion’s share of the operation – is mature and is in desperate need of a new product to breathe new life into a set of products facing savage competition from Pepsi, which has been selling products at up to 50 per cent lower in the supermarkets, and, as health becomes an issue among Australian consumers, sugary drinks will be swapped for healthier drinks.

What CCA is desperate for is a new product from The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC), which can lift its growth. Unfortunately for CCA, this has been a long time coming, with Coke Zero the last successful product released in 2007.

CCA is an anchor bottler for TCCC, which holds 30 per cent of CCA’s shares. This means there is a tension within the relationship, where TCCC wants volume to be the endgame, while CCA is more focused on profit margins.

For now CCA’s growth market is Indonesia, but it is still early days and it will require some heavy spending in capital expenditure to develop the market.

There is always the risk of its relationship with TCCC turning sour. There has long been speculation there is ”constructively discontent” and that TCCC would like to acquire the Indonesian Coca-Cola licence and business back from CCA or find a partner such as Mexican bottler Coca-Cola FEMSA. The speculation intensified in December when TCCC sold 51 per cent of its Philippines bottler to FEMSA.

Whatever the speculation, CCA has done a good job in Indonesia, generating earnings before interest and tax of $102 million for 2012, up 16.8 per cent and growing volume more than 10 per cent.

If its earnings in Indonesia are worse than its trading update suggested, it could put renewed pressure on its relationship with TCCC.

But that is where Watkins can weave her magic.

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Car industry fallout ‘already here’, says condom maker Ansell

No protection: automotive manufacturing pain is laready being felt in the wider economy.The demise of car making in Australia is already causing pain in the wider economy, as Ansell chief executive Magnus Nicolin says the automotive manufacturers and their suppliers have begun to cut back on purchases of the protective equipment it supplies.
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Australia was one of the weaker markets that dragged back Ansell’s underlying revenue growth to just 1 per cent in the December half.

Mr Nicolin said the looming exits of Ford, General Motors and Toyota in 2016 and 2017, and a slowdown in the mining sector, mean that ”Australia is taking a bit of a beating”.

”Even though the [automotive] shutdowns are not going to happen until 2016, 2017, volumes have not been impressive,” he said. ”The manufacturing sector in Australia has been relatively weak over the last six to nine months. That’s obviously having an indirect impact on us.”

Australia accounts for 6 per cent of Ansell’s sales, which were boosted by acquisitions to rise 9 per cent to $US703.6 million ($777.2 million) in the six months to December 31. Ansell shrugged off patchiness in the global economy to report a 14.9 per cent rise in interim net profit to $US65.6 million, just missing consensus of $US67.4 million. Earnings before interest and tax rose 20 per cent to $US82.7 million.

UBS analyst Andrew Goodsall described the result as ”soft” and underlying growth as ”uninspiring”. But he said improved trading towards the end of the half and the contribution from January 2 of US disposable glove maker BarrierSafe International, which Ansell acquired for $US615 million in November, meant the company should meet its full-year guidance. Ansell’s share price fell 5.1 per cent to $18.31 on Monday, off a 12-month high of $22.08 in September 2013.

Surgical sales within the medical division were a strong performer. Sales of synthetic gloves in the segment rose 23 per cent to $US29 million, off the back of a new range that Ansell first started developing three years ago.

The sexual wellness unit, which sells condoms, was the weakest division. Mr Nicolin blamed a change of distributors for some of the 5 per cent fall in sales of branded condoms, to $83 million, as new customers delayed purchases until old distributors had destocked.

Ansell declared an unfranked dividend of US17¢ a share, to be paid on March 25. The dividend is 1¢ higher than the previous corresponding period, when it was paid in Australian dollars at 16¢.

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