Ridley Bell, founder of Mountain Blue, at the family run blueberry operation in NSW Northern Rivers region. Picture: Elise Derwin
Ridley Bell, founder of Mountain Blue, at the family run blueberry operation in NSW Northern Rivers region. Picture: Elise Derwin

NSW family takes out top farming award

A NSW family who has built one of the largest blueberry breeding, farming and marketing businesses in the world has been recognised among Australia's best farmers.

The Bell family, from Mountain Blue Farms at Tabulam in the NSW Northern Rivers region, were named Horticulture Farmer of the Year at The Weekly Times Coles 2020 Farmer of the Year awards tonight.

The Bells - led by father-and-son Ridley and Andrew Bell - farm 147 hectares of blueberry plantings on four properties in two states, run a commercial nursery, have developed 27 new blueberry varieties worldwide that are grown in 24 nations, and employ 80 staff.

The family was recognised for its innovation and dedication to the blueberry industry. About 95 per cent of Mountain Blue's blueberries are sold to domestic markets with the remaining 5 per cent exported, mostly to Asia and the United Arab Emirates. In 2017, the company started a joint venture in India, with five hectares planted as a trial in 2019 and first harvested in April and May last year.

Ridley Bell, founder of Mountain Blue, with his son and managing director Andrew Bell. Picture: Elise Derwin
Ridley Bell, founder of Mountain Blue, with his son and managing director Andrew Bell. Picture: Elise Derwin


The Bells' focus is now on creating a premium blueberry supply 12 months of the year and varieties that can be picked mechanically. They are also seeking to expand their berry basket, growing 80,000 raspberry plants since 2018, working towards a breeding program for blackberries and entering a joint venture to market strawberries.

The Weekly Times Coles Farmer of the Year awards honour the best in beef, cropping, dairy, horticulture, sheep and innovation.

The overall winners were dairy farmers Matt and Alli Reid, from Carlisle River in southwest Victoria. Beef Farmer of the Year was won by Tom and Olivia Lawson from Paringa Livestock at Murrindindi in Victoria, Paul and Sally Bethune from Bethune Lane Dairy at Lake Boga were named Innovative Farmer of the Year while Darren and Kylie Schurmann from Hamilton triumphed in the sheep category. The Baldock family from Karinya Ag at Buckleboo in South Australia were judged Cropping Farmer of the Year.

The awards attracted finalists from NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria.

The awards were presented by Olympian and TV personality Giaan Rooney. Each category winner received $5000 with the overall Farmer of the Year collecting a further $10,000.

Originally published as NSW family takes out top farming award


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