Grower Profile – Chris Boston

Asparagus and sweet potato

“I was in New Guinea for 20 years, I was an agricultural patrol officer in the 1960s. I leased some beautiful soil and started growing peanuts. It was actually quite successful and we had a capital place and several farms. But independence came, and we had three kids, so we sold out and came to Western Australia.

Somehow I got involved growing jojoba. We came from having a coffee plantation and a Range Rover and everything you could possibly want, to camping out in a bark hut near Wiluna growing jojoba.

We moved to Carnarvon in 1985 and I thought the climate was just idyllic. I’d seen some jojoba growing here and it was just fantastic.

I went to Desert Centre in California where this chap was growing jojoba in a soil like gravel, and in between the rows he was growing asparagus that was about six-foot tall and looked incredible. And I thought, bugger me, I’ll do that back in Carnarvon. 

So I came back and got immediately interested in it and bought a few thousand asparagus crowns and planted them, and they seemed to go alright. That would have been 20 years ago.

In the summer here, we start picking at two or three o’clock in the morning, seven days a week, about 200 days of the year. As soon as it’s picked it comes into an ice bath, then into a coolroom, and we pack it that day. It arrives in Perth fresh and chilled. It’s in the shops within 48 hours. With my competitors, it’s three weeks old and withered and tastes awful.

In the early days there was no competition from Mexico and Peru, but now it comes in big loads. But we consistently get at least $4/kg over the imported product because it’s so fresh.

I can produce it virtually when I like in Carnarvon because of the warm climate, so I time the harvest to avoid the southern pick. In the south the temperate climate dictates what you can do. During the winter the asparagus fern dies down, and in the spring away it goes and everyone produces it at the same time and they get bugger all for it. So I never supply it when they do because the price is hopeless.

I retired when I was 70, or tried to. Then I sneaked back to the farming life and revived asparagus production and I’m dabbling in sweet potato now. My wife says, “rather a new crop than a new woman”.

Well, I enjoy what I do but I am getting a bit oldish.