Small changes make big difference

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Vegetable grower Steve Newman has found a way for Australian vegetable growers to reduce costs.

Based in South Australia, Mr Newman completed a Nuffield scholarship late last year, investigating ways the industry deals with labour internationally.

He travelled to the United Kingdom, United States and Europe in search of a "silver bullet" to help with his own operation, Hills Fresh in Gumeracha.

"We grow cauliflowers and leeks all year, lettuce in the summer and we try and crop the same land two and a half times a year, so it's pretty intensive," he said.

"I wanted to find the silver bullet, the machine that would fix all my labour problems, something that would cut cauliflowers, put them in a box and virtually all I had to do was take them to market - that was what I was after."

Mr Newman discovered the challenge was far greater for Australian growers than for those in Europe.

"I imagine WA growers would have the same problem as us - trying to match machinery to soil types," he said. "In Europe where there are a lot of growers in a condensed area, it seems easier."

Mr Newman did not find one solution to reduce labour costs, but a host of strategies that could add up to one big saving.

"I found labour-saving through in-field packing, managing your labour differently and cost structures - just a lot of different ideas," he said.

"Small adaptations make a big difference, so it might be just changing a machine a little bit to suit your conditions just to make sure it keeps going, so you don't have downtime, resulting in that labour being efficient.

"If we can knock that cost down by even a quarter, there's 25 per cent, which is a lot to be gained."

Mr Newman's Nuffield scholarship was supported by Horticulture Australia Limited and the Australian Government.


Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails