Use of cookies

The evokeAG. website uses cookies to enhance your experience and optimise site functionality.

Please refer to our Cookie Policy for more information on which cookies we use and how we collect and use your personal information through cookies

Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Tasmanian salmon farmer raises the bar on sustainability

Huon Aquaculture has grown from a sideline business to an internationally-recognised supplier of farmed salmon, but for executive director Frances Bender, it’s the quiet things that really matter.

Being executive director of a multi-million dollar company is not where Frances Bender expected to land when she married a farmer she met at a railway station, but that’s the trajectory her life took.

Frances and Peter Bender co-found and run Huon Aquaculture, which is now the second-largest aquaculture company in Australia, based out of Dover’s picturesque Hideaway Bay in Tasmania.

Huon Aquaculture farms salmon and ocean trout, selling fish across Australia and internationally, and employing over 700 people. All this, from what began as a sideline business to the Bender family farm where beef and sheep were raised.

“We are still farmers,” Frances said. “We are not fishermen.

“Any farmer knows they are the custodian of their stock and custodian of their land. For us, that’s fish and water.

“Unless you are really looking after those things, you don’t have a sustainable business.”

Frances said she and Peter, who is Huon’s CEO, run the business as a fully vertically-integrated company, managing every single step in the process including harvest, processing, packing and dispatch.

Strong sustainability credentials key to farming success

Frances attributes the company’s strong sustainability and animal welfare credentials to a deeply held philosophy of continuous improvement. In 2018, Huon Aquaculture became the first Australian salmon producer to join the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme.

“I believe we were the first agri-industry company in the world to develop a sustainability dashboard, which is publicly available on our website to transparently report what we are doing in real-time,” Frances said.

“Yes, we have the ticks for animal welfare, sustainability and climate change, but we didn’t do any of the things we do just to get those ticks. It’s just the way we do things.”

But Frances conceded that in a social-media-driven world where detractors have an unguarded platform, the accreditations are important to help show customers and the public that the company is doing the right thing.

Investing in ‘low carbon’ seafood production

Huon invests millions of dollars in research each year and is at the forefront internationally in feed research, fish containment systems and environmental considerations.

Frances said salmon farming is one of the most efficient ways of using natural resources to produce a healthy protein. “It has a low carbon footprint, high energy and protein retention efficiency and low water footprint,” she said.

RELATED: Impact investing for the future of food

“Feed is about 50% of our cost of production. From a business perspective, the number one reason we don’t want to waste it is because we don’t want to negatively impact the sea-bed. Secondly, if we waste fish feed, we waste money.”

“The learning curve for our business is still vertical and has been since we started 35 years ago,” Frances said.

Building climate resilience is a key goal for the business in safeguarding sustainable production. Amoebic gill disease, is one particular risk that affects salmon, and is exacerbated by warming waters. Breeding salmon resistant to the amoeba has helped make Huon more adaptable to the warming oceans associated with climate change.

Choosing to move further off-shore to rougher seas in 2014 (a hefty investment), provided more water movement and greater dissolved oxygen levels and water temperatures for the fish. This required the development of fortress pens – a world first – that keep staff, stock and wildlife safe, culminating over three decades of farming knowledge.

The double netted pens, made with material much like that used for bulletproof vests keep seals out and fish in, so they’re flexible to ride the swell and withstand the punishing offshore weather.

Why building people up is so important for Australia’s rural industries

Frances believes continuously learning and improving, along with a willingness to recruit and support talented people, is where she sees the company’s strength coming from. She laughed when she said she’s now one of the least qualified people in the meetings she attends.

“One of the things I like the most (about the business) is a thing that is never seen on a balance sheet,” Frances said. “I really enjoy being part of a meeting and working with a team, seeing the next generation and their skill and passion coming through.

“I love seeing young people, especially the vocationally trained young men, some of them coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds, getting to a point where they settle down and buy a house and have a family. I find that really fulfilling.”

And to the young women coming through, Frances’s message is to go for it.

“I’ve always encouraged it, but because we have been a rapid adopter of technology, there are more and more opportunities for women now,” she said. “In the early days, the jobs were very physical and there’s no getting away from that. Now there’s no job a woman couldn’t do.”

RELATED: Young kiwifruit farmer seeks to remedy rural labour challenges

Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 might have seen Frances and Peter step back from the business a little, but so far that hasn’t happened.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to completely distance ourselves,” Frances said. “It’s not just that we have grown a business, we have grown an industry that didn’t exist before.”


Enjoyed this story? Want to learn more about the Asia Pacific region’s innovative agrifood tech ecosystem? Sign up for our newsletter here and receive fresh stories about global leaders, farmers, startups and innovators driving collaborative change.

Read more news
Read more news

Read

Agerris robot farming

Agerris delivers AI powered solutions for horticulture industry

An intelligent, machine-learning robot designed to overcome labour challenges, control weeds and improve crop yields is helping shape the future of sustainable farming in Australia. Now the agritech startup, Agerris is seeking a $5 million capital raise to develop its tech and move into international markets.

Tech
6 Oct 2021
4 min read

Agritech resurgence sparks excitement in Western Australia

Industry collaboration is helping propel the next generation of Western Australia’s agritech startups onto the world stage with the skills and knowledge to help solve agrifood challenges. A reinvigorated series of the Agtech Meetup initiative, led by Beanstalk and DPIRD, will begin in October, 2021 to help strengthen WA’s burgeoning agritech ecosystem.

Tech
6 Oct 2021
5 min read
AI and Robotics

Makers not takers – building Australia’s tech industry with AI

The ability of Artificial Intelligence to be developed and used at scale is changing the way problems are solved – from global food shortages to weed identification. The Queensland AI Hub is encouraging a national focus to push AI’s potential by supporting local AI developers – to reduce risk across the supply chain and take control of Australia’s assets, from natural resources to power.

Tech
6 Oct 2021
7 min read

Listen

Makers not takers – building Australia’s tech industry with AI

The ability of Artificial Intelligence to be developed and used at scale is changing the way problems are solved – from global food shortages to weed identification. The Queensland AI Hub is encouraging a national focus to push AI’s potential by supporting local AI developers – to reduce risk across the supply chain and take control of Australia’s assets, from natural resources to power.

Tech
6 Oct 2021
7 min read

Farmer-founder trials pay off in the paddock

This week we take a close look at a fruitful partnership between farmer and agritech founder. Our regular evokeAG. contributor Judy Kennedy speaks with Dan Winson, Founder and CEO of Zetifi a wireless networking startup and Andrew Dumaresq, a broadacre cropping farmer, both based at Wagga Wagga, NSW. It’s a partnership that's evolved and provided a win-win situation for both Dan and Andrew.

Tech
5 Aug 2021
32 min listen

Making sense of blockchain and its value for farmers

This week, we speak to Emma Weston, CEO and Co-Founder of AgriDigital about blockchain technology, how it’s evolved and used across agricultural industries today, specifically grains, and how it’s empowering farmers to access value beyond the farm gate.

Tech
5 Aug 2021
19 min listen

Ardrossan Orchards and using the Phytec App

Two years ago, Batlow, NSW was devastated by one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons on record. Our evokeAG. host and fellow farmer, Stephen Honner caught up with Ian Cathels, Manager of Ardrossan Orchards, at their Woodburn orchard, in the middle of their fruit picking season – to see firsthand their progress and how new technology is driving on-farm efficiencies.

Farm
30 Jun 2021
22 min listen