Forward-thinking fish farm owner named NSW Farmer of the Year

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Peter Arena, managing director of Tailor Made Fish Farms, aquaponics expert and 2016 NSW Farmer of the Year.
Peter Arena, managing director of Tailor Made Fish Farms, aquaponics expert and 2016 NSW Farmer of the Year.
News of the Area
In early December, Nick Arena, owner of the state’s largest barramundi farm, was recognised as 2016 NSW Farmer of the Year.

Minister for Primary Industries, Lands and Water Niall Blair and NSW Farmers’ President Derek Schoen, who presented the Award in Sydney in early December, praised Arena as a leader within the land-based fish production industry who is promoting New South Wales’ primary industries sector in new and exciting ways.

“Nick has been recognised for his outstanding farm management skills and innovation,” Minister Blair said.

“He has implemented business monitoring systems to improve the efficiency of his operations, including an alert system which tracks water flow, airflow and power supply, daily water testing, [and] fish behaviour and growth production reports.

“I congratulate Nick and wish him the best of luck as he prepares to open his own retail shop to sell his barramundi and vegetables.”

Staff and visitors at Tailor Made Fish Farms' aquaponics facility just north of Newcastle, NSW.
Staff and visitors at Tailor Made Fish Farms' aquaponics facility just north of Newcastle, NSW.
Tailor Made Fish Farms
Schoen said all four finalists for this year's NSW Farmer of the Year title were leaders committed to safety and to environmentally sustainable practices with profitable production.

“Mr Arena, along with Casey Cooper, a beekeeper from Tinga; Jock Nivison, a mixed farmer from Walcha; and Peter Matuszny, a free-range egg farmer from Taree, are all clearly hardworking and innovative leaders who are passionate about farming,” he said.

“It’s primary producers like this year’s finalists [who] ensure the food and fibre we all get to enjoy are of a high standard.”

Arena was awarded a cash prize of $10,000; the other three finalists each received $2,000.

Leafy greens, grown hydroponically at Arena's barra-farming facility north of Newcastle, NSW.
Leafy greens, grown hydroponically at Arena's barra-farming facility north of Newcastle, NSW.
Tailor Made Fish Farms
Tailor Made Fish Farms: success via sustainable aquaponics

Nick Arena is the managing director of Tailor Made Fish Farms, a booming barra business based in the Bobs Farm area near Port Stephens, on New South Wales’ mid-north coast.

Here, in 1,440 square metres of tanks on 43 acres [17.4 hectares] of land, Arena’s high-tech aquaponics operation produces around 1,000 kilograms of fish a week.

And tropical barramundi is not all the farm produces: Arena has installed an integrated hydroponic NFT system that enables the facility to grow herbs and leafy greens.

Basil, curly and Continental parsley; fancy lettuce, spinach and bok choy are cultivated on ‘hydroponic tables’ utilising nutrient-rich wastewater obtained from backwashing the fish production tanks’ filtration systems. The plants utilise these unwanted nitrogen compounds, reducing the need for fertiliser and solving what would otherwise be a costly wastewater disposal problem.

Over one growing cycle – three to four weeks, during summer – the tables produce around 22,000 heads of red and green oak, baby cos and mignonette lettuce, spinach and bok choy.

Much of the farm’s produce is used on-site at the farm’s restaurant, Cook-a-Barra.

The facility also runs daily tours to show consumers how their food is farmed and to educate them on the challenges and benefits of producing nutritious food in an environmentally sustainable way.

The finalists: finding new ways to reap returns from bees, eggs and animal protein

“The state’s $12 billion primary industries are in good hands, reflected by the high calibre of finalists we have in this year’s competition,” Minister Blair said at the Awards ceremony.

Like Arena, the three finalists for 2016’s NSW Farmer of the Year – an apiarist, a free-range egg producer and a mixed beef and sheep farmer – are implementing smart, sustainable farm management practices that boost efficiency and productivity: deploying systems and technology that enable them to produce more with less; diversifying to add value and up returns; collaborating with fellow farmers and retailers; and helping educate consumers about 21st-century farm production.

  • Casey Cooper, a successful apiarist, owns and manages Coopers Bees at Tingha on NSW’s Northern Tablelands, breeding healthy, strong, robust bees for honey production as well as providing Queen bee rearing, pollination and artificial insemination (AI) services, and selling by-products such as beeswax.
  • Peter Matuszny runs Manning Valley Free Range Eggs, based in Taree on the mid-north NSW coast hinterland. The operation consists of seven Manning Valley farms that produce free-range eggs to supply more than 700 supermarkets and local independent stores, and a sideline business breeding and fattening 400 head of beef cattle.
  • Jock Nivison is the operator of ‘Yalgoo’, a family beef and sheep enterprise on 2,941 hectares at Walcha, at the southern edge of NSW’s Northern Tablelands. At Yalgoo, Nivison runs commercial fine-wool merinos, seedstock merinos, seedstock and commercial beef. He also operates a second seedstock merino enterprise in Tasmania. Nivison is demonstrating the opportunities that flow from raising dual-purpose flocks.

Manning Valley Free Range Eggs' Peter Matuszky, one of the finalists in the 2016 NSW Farmer of the Year Awards.
Manning Valley Free Range Eggs' Peter Matuszky, one of the finalists in the 2016 NSW Farmer of the Year Awards.
Manning Valley Free Range Eggs
All the finalists are great ambassadors for the agriculture industry, said Schoen.

“The Award acknowledges their achievements and determination to excel in their farming operations,” he said. “They are driving innovation in efficient agriculture practices, strengthening biosecurity, and utilising new research and technology to improve the profitability of their farming businesses.”

More about the NSW Farmer of the Year Award

The annual NSW Farmer of the Year Award recognises outstanding farmers across the state, judging candidates on their agricultural management skills, their use of innovation, the profitability and environmental sustainability of their operations, and their involvement in the wider community.

The Award is an initiative of NSW Farmers and NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), with support from The Land and SafeWork NSW

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