The successful domestic and international reputation has blossomed through the hard work, innovative and hands-on approach of the founders, Ian and Marion MacLaughin. The couple share a passion for their adopted homeland and a deep connection to the land itself. South-African born Ian was raised in Zimbabwe but decided to leave the country and his post as army captain in 1981 after Robert Mugabe came to power.
Ian and Marion and their young family moved to Oman, and then to the United Kingdom, where the former soldier gained wider experience in the insurance and retirement industries.
However, Australia’s culture and climate called and the family immigrated to Perth in 1987. After considering various business opportunities in WA, they set off on their trusty BMW R80GS motorbike to explore their new country. They established Skybury Coffee the same year.
Today the farm is home to three generations of the MacLaughlin family. Ian and Marion work alongside two of their three children. Five of their grandchildren also call the farm home.
Skybury is at Paddy’s Green just outside Mareeba, at the northern end of the fertile Atherton Tablelands. Skybury Plantation covers 470 acres (190) and sits about 1706 feet (520 metres) above sea level. Our closest city is Cairns.
Coffee and red papaya is grown at Skybury Tropical Plantation. The sandy soils and subtropical climate provide the perfect growing conditions for coffee and papaya. Skybury produces about 40 tonnes of green coffee per year and over two million kilos of red papaya. At peak times, the packing shed will process over 60 pallets of papaya per day - that's about 60 tonnes.
The farm sources its irrigation water from the Mareeba-Dimbulah Irrigation Scheme, which is supplied from Lake Tinaroo on the southern Tablelands. The irrigation scheme supports over 1000 farms and underpins the supply of a huge variety of produce, including avocados, mangoes, limes, table grapes, sugarcane and cotton.
Skybury employs about 90 people in its papaya, coffee and tourism operations.
‘A superb producer whose willingness to explore new and improved quality methods have helped create this beautiful coffee.’
The harvested coffee is unloaded into vats of water at the wet processing plant. Each load comprises five to eight tonnes of coffee cherries and the plant processes up to 20 loads per day during the harvest season. The principle that good coffee is denser and, therefore, heavier than immature coffee is put to good effect here as water is used to clean and classify the cherries.
The heavier coffee is siphoned off first and is sent through the classifier machine, which splits the outer cherry skin open and pushes the beans out. This machine also ejects any unripe cherries that may come in with the load.
After the classifier, the coffee goes through a second machine called a pulper, removing the skin and pulp from the coffee bean. The coffee beans are then sent down a channel, which allows the lightweight coffee to be skimmed off, leaving the heavier coffee to enter large fermentation tanks.
This coffee is then fermented overnight, changing the sugars in the bean and giving it a distinctive fruity taste. After 24 hours the coffee is transferred to the driers. Skybury’s sophisticated processing facilities allow them to shape the flavour of our coffee.
Coffee is harvested by combing the trees, using the vibrating “fingers” of the harvester. These fingers are durable and flexible, but gentle enough not to damage the trees. The machine spends up to three seconds passing over each tree, gently shaking it so that only the mature cherries fall off. These cherries flow over a series of spring-loaded fish plates into a bucket elevator, which transfers them to a holding tank on the harvester to await collection and transfer to the wet plant for processing.
Skybury harvests on average 1.5 tonnes of green coffee bean per hectare. Coffee trees can live in excess of 80-100 years and are sometimes referred to as a centurion plant, but productivity declines at around 10 years and peak production is between six and eight years.