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Commercial female farmers turn up the heat

Date

June 5, 2020

Published by

Penrhos College

Penrhos College is committed to recognising the achievements of accomplished women, particularly when those successful women are members of our College alumni.

Creating thriving businesses in regional areas by applying their STEM-based skills (in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a growing trend – we love the ways in which our Old Girls are constantly innovating to establish competitive edge.

Like Penrhos alum Karyn Wiggins (1997), Managing Director of family-owned-and-run business Moore Veggies in Carnarvon, Western Australia.

 

The case of an all girls’ school’s successful alumna

Karyn’s commercial approach to farming and ability to embrace technology underpinned her rise to become the largest hot chilli grower in Western Australia, along with partner Jaimie ‘Pompy’ Moore. Karyn believes their successful journey was made possible by the couple’s ability to anticipate market needs, diversify produce, market their brand and constantly redefine their goals.

“What started as growing capsicums and eggplants for the big supermarket chains expanded into the niche market of super-hot chillies,” Karyn says. “We needed to diversify our crops so, if the price is bad for capsicums, the other crops counterbalance any loss. At the end of the day, we are price takers not price makers – so we have to think outside the square to remain profitable”.

A grower all her life, from a 40-year family tradition in producing, Karyn is like many emerging female farmers – innovative, resilient and passionate about what she does.

“I was born and raised on the plantation in Carnarvon. My parents wanted me to have a good education, so they sent me to Penrhos College in Perth as a boarder.” After leaving Penrhos, Karyn returned to the plantation with a new outlook and a new range of STEM-related skills under her belt – she quickly applied what she had learned to identify areas for improvement in the business.

Technology is what has shaped this business – the skills I learned were a major factor in making us more commercial. Penrhos helped me to understand the importance of efficiencies; I taught my parents how to use computers – not only for administration, but for farming equipment like the automated irrigation system. This was revolutionary for operations, as we programmed it to routinely measure fertiliser dosing rates and adjusted watering accordingly – my parents couldn’t believe they no longer had to hand-water the crops.”

In 2000, Karyn’s parents pioneered netting in the Gascoyne region to protect their crops from weather and animals – the yield was tripled! As the family continued to innovate, her mother Sue retired and Karyn stepped in full-time from age 28; now 40, she is joint Managing Director alongside partner Jaimie and father Deane.

The business’ reputation as the leading WA grower of super-hot chillies is also due to Karyn’s proactive marketing. She increased presence at local events like Carnarvon’s premier week-long eating festival The Long Table Lunch and found unique ways to get her produce in front of Australia’s leading chefs and restauranteurs – through promoted Growers Tours by the Gascoyne Food Council she hosted guest chefs, media and business people on the plantation.

This kind of community engagement not only helped Moore Veggies to deal directly with suppliers,  but it also led to a connection with chef and Dingo Sauce Co. owner Leigh Nash, who wanted a supply of super-hot “Carolina Reaper” chillies for his award-winning “Widow Maker” sauce. He needed 20,000 bottles within six weeks to export to America for a global You Tube chilli show called “The Hot Ones” in which celebrities are challenged to taste the hottest sauces ever made. This February, Dingo Sauce Co.’s “Widow Maker” was tasted by Aussie actress Margot Robbie and Karyn is honoured to have supplied over a tonne of produce for the batch. See the spicy episode here https://youtu.be/JeUFrZtKkn8.

Fascinated by the science of plant breeding, Karyn’s experiments with her own variety of super-hot chillies resulted in the cross-contamination of seeds to naturally form a new yellow variety Mustard X – Karyn tells us people say it’s even hotter than the “Carolina Reaper” which currently holds the Guinness Book of Records award for hottest in the world.

In meeting farmers like Karyn, it is clear that well-educated women are helping to shape the future in Australia’s farming. “What I learned at Penrhos was invaluable to my success in business today. From establishing a strong work ethic, to the kind of STEM-related skills that are vital in agriculture … looking back now, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be a Penrhos boarder.”

The irony? Karyn’s passion may be for growing them, but she is practically allergic to chillies! Luckily, partner Jaimie is a real heat fanatic and lead taster…

 

In spite of these uncertain times, Penrhos remains firmly committed to our scholarships and bursary program for families who would not otherwise afford a private education for their daughter. Find out more about how Penrhos College boarding scholarships and bursaries can present your family with the opportunity of a lifetime. https://penrhos.wa.edu.au/enrolments/scholarships-bursaries/