Troy Bensley – or Fred as he is better known – runs Stillbrook Potato and Pastoral Company, a certified seed growing operation in Crookwell, New South Wales in Australia. Fred spoke to AUSVEG about his role in the business, its venture into exporting spuds to Fiji and the challenges he faces alongside the wider potato industry.
A fourth generation potato grower, Troy ‘Fred’ Bensley fondly recalls watching his father John working tirelessly on the family farm at Crookwell, a small town located in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.
“I remember the days when Dad used to be ploughing and I’d have my own little toy tractor, dragging the bucket around behind me,” Fred says. “It was like playing around in the dirt but I just didn’t realise where it’d all end up one day.”
Wind the clock forward to 2017 and Fred, in partnership with his father John, mother Sandra and wife Nicky, oversees Stillbrook Potato and Pastoral Company, a mixed farming operation which produces several certified seed potato varieties, including Atlantic, Carisma, Pontiac, Sebago, Snowden and AG90 (otherwise known as Lusa).
The business also encompasses a poll merino stud, prime lambs and cereal crops when the Bensleys are finished with the potato paddocks.
Fred describes his average day at work as “hectic”, particularly at harvesting time when the days stretch into the night as he tries to get as many potatoes out of the ground before the wet weather sets in.
In addition, the certified seed potato grower is kept busy at home – he and Nicky have three children: Chloe, 6, Charlotte, 4, and Rory, 3.
Stillbrook’s spuds are sold around the country including Virginia in South Australia, the Atherton Tablelands, Gatton and Bundaberg in Queensland and the New South Wales towns of Maitland, Robertson, Bathurst, Dorrigo, Cowra, Orange, Robertson, Windsor and Narrandera.
However the biggest breakthrough for the business occurred around five years ago when Fred was contacted by BGP International Export Sales Manager Patrick McGreesh, who was enquiring whether Stillbrook grew Pontiac potatoes and if they would be interested in exporting them to Fiji.
The family obliged, and Fred is proud of his business’ ability to crack the international potato market.
“A lot of people have tried to get into those markets and they usually get one go at it or it just falls over, but we’ve managed to be able to sustain it for five years – and they’re talking about continuing to import these potatoes for a few more years yet,” he says.