IT was the drought of the early 1990s that convinced wheat and sheep farmers Mary and Michael Nenke to try and make a living from what until then had been a hobby.
The couple from Kukerin, about 300 kilometres from Perth on the road to Esperance, have done more than make a living from their new venture – the family run yabby farm has become the State’s largest producer of yabbies.
Established in 1991, Cambinata Yabbies is now a multi-million dollar business, producing 43 per cent of the State’s yabbies. In its best year the business farmed 75 tonnes of yabbies.
While the yabby business is also affected by drought, the Nenkes have been able to expand their operations significantly, Ms Nenke said.
“In our biggest year we produced 75 tonnes and the majority of our yabbies now go overseas. We’ve been able to build exports even in the drought,” she said,
The figures are impressive and, given that it all started after a record catch of 20 kilograms in one week by Mr Nenke back in the early 1990s, it’s not surprising that the couple had to quickly establish bigger production facilities.
“It grew very quickly. We started it in 1991 and we were producing about 500 kilograms a month directly into Perth,” Ms Nenke said.
“Then we expanded east. In 1999 or 2000 we listed with Austrade and our biggest month has been 10 tonnes of yabbies.”
Cambinata Yabbies first went offshore in 1993, but the process was much lengthier than the process required for current production at the Cambinata Yabbies facility.
“We had to drive a round trip of 400 kilometres to be able to pack the yabbies in a registered establishment to be able to export them,” Ms Nenke said.
“In 1994 we built our own export establishment, with an industrial plant to treat the water.”
But the business continued to grow beyond the production capacities and it wasn’t long before new treatment tanks were brought in and housed at the shearing shed located on the family property.
Cambinata Yabbies are sold to Asia, Europe and the US, and Ms Nenke expects those markets to grow in coming years.
“The aim is to keep it growing. I’m looking to get a 100 tonnes a year and I hope that will come next year,” she said.
And the business’s expansion into new areas continues unabated. It recently released gourmet yabbies, which are cooked to Ms Nenke’s recipe, packed and then sold to food outlets.
And in the spirit of food marketing activities, Cambinata Yabbies will host its first gourmet dinner in its shearing shed on October 4 this year.
Ms Nenke said her and Michael’s ability to draw on each other’s strengths had helped the business succeed. And, with several of their children now working with them, there is even more strength to draw from, she said.
“We have to use the talents of the whole family. Michael is brilliant at making things and working with the technology,” Ms Nenke said.
“I could never understand or do that. I’m better at the administration, negotiations and marketing. We make a good team.
“Our three sons and youngest daughter work with us as well.
“The needs of the family are why this business happened. And if it wasn’t for the family then why would we do it?”
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