In Potatoes Australia - Winter 2021, Pat Salter sits down with Craig and Andrew Mildren from Reck Farms in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley region. Pat is the Operations Manager, and he speaks to the pair and their team about a range of topics, including Reck Farms’ latest innovations, overcoming challenges and ways to attract young people into the potato industry.

Over 60 years ago, Mulgowie locals Des and Val Reck established Reck Farms in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley region. The couple purchased their first farm in Lower Tenthill in 1962, and today Reck Farms spans across two council regions. There are 16 properties in total and the specialty crops are processing and fresh market potatoes, along with beetroot, broccoli and 10 other horticultural commodities.

Second-generation grower Craig Mildren and his wife Leanne are part-owners in Reck Farms, which remains a family-run business. Craig’s specialty is the potato aspects of the business where he is involved with the planting regime through to the final product. Craig enjoys growing the crop and has a passion for understanding the parameters of growing a perfect spud.

Andrew Mildren is Craig and Leanne’s eldest son, who is a leading hand and key member of staff when it comes to the potato season. Andrew takes charge in the field, the harvesting and the logistics of moving the crop from farm to shed to complete the process.

Andrew is a vital part of the potato season at Reck Farms; he takes control of planting, fertiliser application, and the harvesting schedule. Andrew continues the trend of generational potato growing, and his five-year old son Cooper is showing an interest in the family farm.

An evolving business

Over the past six decades, Reck Farms has progressed on-farm with a view to remain a sustainable and viable operation. The team has invested in new technologies to assist with crop uniformity, replacing hand tools with the latest GPS tractors and computerised implements.

There have also been changes in business direction. Craig indicates that the processing market has taken precedence over the fresh market, due to market and price stability in this market – although the Reck group still dabbles in the fresh brushed market.

“The business still practices the art of hand-picking brush potatoes through to mechanical and washed market. Over the years, the variety changes have been beneficial to the industry, especially in the composition of the potato for specific markets,” Craig says.

Reck Farms’ stronger focus on the processing market has seen adaption of varietal change, and it is supportive of varietal trials during the growing season.

"Gone are the days of planting the crop and seeing what happens. This is now a precise art."

Facing challenges

Like the wider horticulture industry, labour is a concern – particularly in the brushed potato market as it is a dying art for handpicked product. Craig believes that the handpicked product is still as God created it.

“It is perfect compared to the mechanical processes that can cause blemishes to the final product,” he says.

Other factors that are of concern to Craig and the team are water availability and quality. Craig specifically investigates all aspects in crop preparation before any soil is turned over, to ensure that the crop has the best opportunity to perform and produce a higher-than-average yield.

“Gone are the days of planting the crop and seeing what happens. This is now a precise art,” Craig adds.

Reck Farms is also continually reviewing new technologies and weighing up the pros and cons of the technology, and the ability to adopt it on-farm. The operation has introduced a new precision piece of AG into the mix of technology that supports the distribution of fertiliser to the crop.

“Andrew and I are always looking at publications and reading articles on best practice – not only within Australia, but also globally. This provides us with the benefits of having the finger on the pulse when it comes to the potato industry,” Craig says.

Innovation focus

Craig, Andrew and the Reck Farms team recently reviewed and purchased a new harvester to assist in extracting potatoes from the field with a softer approach that causes less damage to the product.

The team is always looking at new methods and variations to refine these practices. It has invested in further modifications to the washing plant to streamline the process and reduce mechanical damage to the potato. It has invested the time and patience in reviewing its bulk processing processes to be more efficient in this marketspace, with the view of moving from the labour demanding domestic markets.

“We see improved yields, quality and dry matter from new varieties as being an important element for the future of the potato market in our business and that of Australia,” Craig says.

“We are strong advocates in supporting more research, especially in specific variety of spuds for a push into domestic and international markets, while still holding the integrity and marketability of the potato.”

Generation next

During a roundtable discussion, Reck Farms addressed the topic of engaging the younger generations to take up jobs within the potato industry.

The teams reflected over the past 25 years of working with potatoes and they have identified that this industry – with its own R&D – has demonstrated a strength in the adoption of technology which is supported by innovation.

It also identified that the industry should look at the way it networks with the next generation of young growers. It suggested using social media and virtual workspaces – combining these spaces or hubs will encourage collaboration with the next generation. With the age of technology and the diversification of networks within it, the team has also identified that podcasts are also probably another avenue to get the messages across to the next generation of grower, as they spend hours behind a steering wheel.

Looking ahead

Craig is very optimistic when it comes to the opportunities for potato industry growth in Australia. He can see the continual growth within the regions, thanks to the support of the industry and its researchers.

“The team members at Reck Farms are confident that they can talk to industry specialists to discuss current and future challenges within the industry. The team’s current focus is on three aspects: achieving higher yields, reducing costs in better paddock designs and the use of technology and stronger consideration of the chemical inputs on the crop,” Craig says.

Reck Farms also envisages a bright future for the Queensland potato industry.

“With a small growing window and minimal overall domestic volume of potatoes grown, we see ourselves as being open to support our southern growers in the export marketspace,” Craig says.

“Queensland potato growers have the ability to provide support to the current exporters for fresh product to meet current commitments offshore.”

This grower profile first appeared in the leading magazine for the Australian potato industry, Potatoes Australia. If you’d like to subscribe to receive a new edition of Potatoes Australia in your mailbox every three months, email Please include your postal address.

Cover image: Back – Craig and Andrew Mildren. Front – Cooper and Sophia Mildren. 

Photography credit: Rowena Dione.