News

After years underground, this grower was 'done with dirt'

GRASSTREE GROWER: Dean Halpin from New Reef Hydroponics.
GRASSTREE GROWER: Dean Halpin from New Reef Hydroponics. Emily Smith

FOURTEEN years as an underground miner and Dean Halpin was done with dirt.

In 2000, having never ventured into horticulture before, the father of four started up New Reef Hydroponics, a hydroponic lettuce farm, with wife Alison at their Grasstree Beach property.

While they started off with infrastructure to grow 2000 lettuces, they have continued to expand over the years and now have equipment to grow 35,000 at a time.

A willingness to learn, especially from mistakes, fuelled the success Mr Halpin believes.

"It was a big learning curve," Mr Halpin said.

"When I look back on it now I think 'I never had a grey hair in my head until then'."

 

When the family first moved to Grasstree Beach, south of Sarina, Mr Halpin said it "was thriving", and many people from Mackay would travel down to enjoy seafood on the beach on a weekend.

"It was like Pitt St in Sydney," he said.

Mr Halpin had always had a green thumb, and after meeting one of the biggest hydroponic lettuce farmers in New South Wales, as his dad trained horses for him, decided to give hydroponics a go.

Hydroponic farming involves giving the plants their nutrients through water, rather than growing them in soil.

As the set-up and initial infrastructure costs are expensive, Mr and Mrs Halpin continued working on and off for the first five or six years they operated.

Mr Halpin said he also had a stint at being "Mr Mum", the stay at home parent, which he loved.

During those initial years, Mr Halpin said everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

The lettuces "caught just about every disease there is" and because the same water is pumped through the whole operation it wiped the crop out.

"They said it never hailed here but in the first year it hailed. It put holes all through the lettuces," Mr Halpin said.

"They said it never frosted. We got frosts four times.

"It got to the stage where we hoped people would stop saying 'It won't happen'. Because it always did."

But getting thrown in the deep end taught Mr Halpin to learn quickly.

"It was sink or swim," he said.

As he walks between the trays of produce he has growing, he can spot a minor blemish on any given plant and work out why it is there.

But this ability only came after years of research.

He read books and learnt on the job, but also sought out advice anywhere he could find it.

He became "good mates" with a hydroponic lettuce farmer at Alice Springs, who he called after seeing him on television one night.

"I just called up and said 'Hey mate, how you going?' And he shared his knowledge," he said.

"That was beneficial."

While a single disease could wipe out an entire crop, Mr Halpin said if that happened he would have another one ready to harvest within three to four weeks.

The water circulating throughout the farm is tested every day, and the crop is only given the exact nutrients it needs.

He said this meant they grew up to twice as quickly as they did in the ground.

As New Reef Hydroponics grew in size during the past 16 years, it also grew in diversity and Mr Halpin now produces about 20 different varieties, including lettuces, spinach, bok choy and herbs.

But life is about more than just work for the Grasstree grower.

When he needs to relax, he hops the fence to see his horses.

As his dad was a horse trainer and raced pacers in Newcastle for 45 years, Mr Halpin has always loved being around the animals.

"They're an outlet for me. So at the end of the day I can go and give them a pat," he said.

Champion race horse Black Caviar's half sister, called Secret Belle, also lives there, but Mr Halpin said while she was fast, she couldn't run straight.

"She was really fast, but had a problem with her head," he said, with a laugh.

He's also managed to breed one of the horses, two-year-old Northern Secret.

"Hopefully she can pick up a sprint race. But with horses, you never really know," he said.

To try the produce from New Reef Hydroponics go to Veggies Unlimited, Fruit World, Grower's Own, the Mackay region IGA's and the Greater Whitsunday Farmer's Market.

"Some people think you can't have friend in business, but I don't agree with that," Mr Haplin said.

"If it wasn't for these suppliers, we wouldn't be here."

Topics:  grasstree beach, horticulture, hydroponics, lettuce, sarina


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Baden-Clay decision shows appeal judges are 'out of touch'

Citing the Court of Appeal’s decision to downgrade Gerard Baden-Clay’s (pictured) murder conviction to manslaughter, Judge Clive Wall says “too much emphasis” is placed on offenders by the Court of Appeal.

Judge says some colleagues are touch with victims, community.

A gnarly new BMX spot

NEW FACILITY: Cr Jennie Breene at Doug Larsen Park where the BMX track is being demolished and replaced.

New BMX park for Beenleigh.

Tiahleigh Palmer: Foster brother bashed in prison

SEARCH: Police excavate a section behind the foster home of the Queensland schoolgirl  at Chambers Flat. (Below) Tiahleigh Palmer, 12.

Trent Thorburn assaulted in prison

Local Partners

Logan sure uses its ImagiNation

New children's festival showcases Logan's best.

A HELPING HAND

HELPING OUT: Renee and Joel Chapman from CentroCentre offer essentials .

CentroCentre provides help for those in need.

A gnarly new BMX spot

NEW FACILITY: Cr Jennie Breene at Doug Larsen Park where the BMX track is being demolished and replaced.

New BMX park for Beenleigh.

Tiahleigh Palmer: Foster brother bashed in prison

SEARCH: Police excavate a section behind the foster home of the Queensland schoolgirl  at Chambers Flat. (Below) Tiahleigh Palmer, 12.

Trent Thorburn assaulted in prison

It's all about respect

ON A MISSION: #R4Respect ambassadors Jennifer Uwineza and Andrew Taukolo.

Ambassadors head to conference.

Eagleby supermarket theft

Police need your help.

Upgrades under way for Daisy Hill

IMPROVEMENTS: Mick de Brenni MP pictured last year with John Saville and Sandra Lott at Daisy Hill Forest.

Upgrades on the way for Daisy Hill forest.

Local shoppers help children's hospice

Coles Queensland state manager Paul Bradshaw, community relations officer Sonja Marsden and Hummingbird House co-founder Paul Quilliam.

Fundraising for Hummingbird House.

Classic car auction draws buyers from US, Dubai

"He wants everyone to enjoy the cars, the collection got too big'

Lady Gaga confirms Super Bowl show

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga to perform in coveted spot

Girls actors give emotional tributes to hit show

Actor Allison Williams

Actors farewell smash hit HBO show Girls after six seasons

Janet Jackson's pregnancy is 'best thing'

Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson can't wait to become a mum

Jay Z signs two-year movie and TV deal

Rapper Jay Z

Rapper Jay Z has signed a television and movie deal

Nowhere to Hyde: Matt Nable is Australia's man in demand

Matt Nable stars as Detective Gary Hyde in the TV series Hyde & Seek.

NABLE returns to the small screen amidst busy film work.

Marvel's Luke Cage S1E7: Manifest review

Mike Colter in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage. Supplied by Netflix.

*WARNING: spoilers if you haven't seen Marvel's Luke Cage*

Beach-side real estate starts at $85k on Fraser Coast

HERVEY BAY REAL ESTATE: You can buy this townhouse in Scarness for under $300k.

Live your beach-living dream locally.

$40million hotel, shops development project for Mackay

Mt Pleasant hotel and retirement accommodation, proposed at 194-202 Malcomson St.

$40m development to take Mackay to 'the next level'

Five ways to slash household bills and save the environment

THINK GREEN: Considering the environment when building or buying your next home can save you big dollars. The Village Building Company, who is responsible for Woodlinks Village at Collingwood Park, builds homes with this front of mind.

THERE is nothing as sweet as slashing dollars from your bills.

Property 200m from ocean selling for just over $100K

BEACHCOMBER PARK: Work has started on a new $19.2 million development at Toogoom.

The estate's developer is offering huge discounts for early buyers.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

First stages of $25 million housing development underway

New development on Madsen Rd - The Springs.

The blocks of land are much bigger than usual