SHEFFIELD farmer Phil Dickinson may have the first truffle farm on Tasmian’s North-West coast, but holding his first fungi gold is still a couple of years off.
Mr Dickinson planted 2100 oak trees on his property last year, placing him only one year into a four-year plan.
“We’ve done a business plan, assuming we’ll see some truffles in year four,” he said.
“As it turns out, some recent farms that have gone in have actually been productive before that.”
Mr Dickinson said he’d had a long love affair with the truffle.
“Unlike a lot of truffle farmers who just get in it as an interesting project on the way to make money, I always had a love of truffles,” he said.
“I had a look at setting up a truffle farm about 15 years ago when I was living in New South Wales.
‘‘I was convinced by a New Zealand expert that the farm wasn’t suitable and, in retrospect, I should have gone and done it anyway because some of the science has changed a lot in 15 years.”
It was three years ago, when Phil finally bought what the former cattle property at Sheffield, that his dream began to take hold.
However, there’s still a long road ahead before his truffle production reaches fruition.
“I spent a couple of years doing preparation, which was removing fencing, drainage of the paddocks and soil chemistry,” Mr Dickinson said.
“Then last year we planted the oak trees.”
Other than a managed investment scheme truffle farm in Western Australia and another in Chudleigh in
Tasmania’s north, the remainder are smaller farms.
”After you exclude those two, there’s only a handful of farms that are as big as mine,” Mr Dickinson said.
Once his farm is operational, Mr Dickinson plans to sell to Tasmanian restaurants initially.
‘‘But I’m hoping to produce a lot more than that and will be selling through a food specialist wholesaler in Melbourne,’’ he said.
‘‘Once our industry gets big enough, and in fact it’s still growing quite rapidly . . . we plan to do group marketing and sell into Europe, where the real rewards will come from.”
He said there was strong demand for the product on a national scale.
“Because it’s still a young industry, there’s still some inconsistency with producing enough to meet the demand.
“We’re not big enough to be able to create markets, so we’re in this in-between stage.”
Next year Mr Dickinson will begin training dogs to help sniff out the truffles.
“Initially it was pigs or dogs, but the problem with pigs is the pig wants to find the truffle to eat it,” he said.