Rhys Cappello is keen to come back to the family farm in the future.
Rhys Cappello is keen to come back to the family farm in the future.

Young cane farmer shares vision for the future

ANYONE who doubts the future of the sugar industry should have a yarn to someone like Rhys Cappello.

Rhys, his siblings Eli, Caleb and Gaby and their parents Annamaria and David Cappello, live on their Nicholson Road farm.

It's part of 2500 acres of land under cane between there and Gargett, which is owned and farmed by Rhys' dad, two uncles and an aunt.

It's land which was originally taken up by his grandfather, Reg Cappello, who died earlier this year.

Rhys grew up on the farm and cane farming is in his blood. But that doesn't mean it was taken for granted that he - or any of the kids - would take over the farm. But it's what he reckons he will do one day.

"In 10 years or so I will come back to the farm I think," he said.

"There is a future here - well, there has to be.

"Just on our farm this industry has sustained two, almost three generations. And I want to be able to see my children here one day."

Rhys is 18. He graduated from St Patrick's College last year and he knows farming is hard work.

"Dad doesn't mind delegating either. We help where we can though."

His experience and sensibilities around the operational workings of the family farm - and the industry as a whole - belies what many might call his "young" age.

But this 'kid' has a plan. And a vision.

In January, Rhys started working at Farleigh Mill as an apprentice electrician, following in the footsteps of most of the the blokes in his family.

He starts a business degree through CQUniversity next year and that's all with a view to having the business acumen to run the farm and play an active role in the broader industry setting. You get the feeling he will make good on those goals.

Innovation, drive and old-fashioned common sense are the yardsticks by which he works. He makes the most of new ideas and developments in alternative crop rotations, weed management, cane growth and development and soil quality management.

With his father and brother, and extended family, he is a next-generation grower with a keen eye on the future.

"I see this industry from two sides - the milling and the growing.

"Like I always say to Dad, when someone comes in and invests in Mackay Sugar, it'll be brilliant for me - the experience I'll get will be great and quality of the mill, oh, yeah I think it will be really good for us and for the industry as a whole."

He reckons any negativity around the idea - or around the industry in general - can be brought back to three factors - the fact people don't want to change, and they think things should just stay the same; the worry that they'll need to produce more sugar to make the mills more efficient and raise productivity; and good old-fashioned naivety.

"The future of this industry is my livelihood - and hopefully my kids' as well.

"It's hard work, and we do have to diversify and there are new things we need to adapt to, but we have to.

"There are those who want to cash up and leave. You can see that a mile off."

For Rhys it is all about getting bigger: in size, in quality, in innovation and in the way farmers diversify.

"You learn by sitting and listening. And we will have a good future if we learn to see what the next thing is; and adapt to it."