Out of the blue: Shocked Lindendale blueberry grower Ridley Bell at the podium of this year’s NSW Farmers’ Association Conference in Sydney after being named NSW Farmer of the Year on Wednesday night for his outstanding contributions to the industry.
Out of the blue: Shocked Lindendale blueberry grower Ridley Bell at the podium of this year’s NSW Farmers’ Association Conference in Sydney after being named NSW Farmer of the Year on Wednesday night for his outstanding contributions to the industry. Mel McMillan

Local wins Farmer of the Year

A FLABBERGASTED Ridley Bell, of Lindendale, accepted the NSW Farmer of the Year Award at the NSW Farmers’ Association Conference in Sydney on Wednesday night.

Mr Bell said winning the award, worth $10,000, was a great honour.

“I’m just a little cog in the wheel of farming people who feed our nation,” he said.

Mr Bell fell in love with farming as a seven-year-old boy collecting blackberries for his mother. He has come a long way since.

He now owns and manages Mountain Blue Orchards, a 34ha farm with 74,000 plants producing about 35,000 trays of first-grade blueberries each year.

Mr Bell has pioneered the blueberry industry in Australia over the past 35 years by developing new low-chill varieties. He was also instrumental in setting up the Australian Blueberry Growers’ Association.

He now has his sights set on developing a blueberry that can be harvested mechanically with out bruising.

“It’s the holy grail of blueberries,” Mr Bell said.

“It’s five years away.”

Mr Bell’s contribution to the Lismore Soup Kitchen was also acknowledged.

NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Steve Whan, said Mr Bell’s innovation really stood out from the other finalists.

“Ridley is essentially committed to a niche aspect of an emerging industry byembracing breeding andvarietal work that has made him such a success,” Mr Whan said.

State Lismore MP Thomas George echoed his political counterpart.

“Ridley is a pioneer in the industry and committed to research and development to further grow this emerging market,” Mr George said.

The $5000 Young Farmerof the Year Award went to Andrew Carroll, 35, of Palmers Island, near Yamba.

Mr Carroll has pioneered the use of large land-based fish ponds to produce mulloway.

In 2008 Mr Carroll purchased an old prawn farm to establish his business. His objective was to improve feed conversion rates and growth by removing all predator stresses and creating an environment he believed was more suitable to mulloway.

His Palmers Island Mulloway now supplies some of Sydney’s top restaurants.

The awards were presented by association president Charles Armstrong, who said they acknowledged innovation and excellence in NSW agriculture.

The North Coast also won the People’s Choice Award at Tuesday night’s Regional Food Fair for its entry of Yamba-caught prawns sautéed in Lismore-grown lime and Caniaba-grown fresh zest, and cooked in Summerland Olive olive oil from Fairy Hill, near Casino.



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