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Organic growth


Michelle De’Lisle, AUSVEG

Gingin Organics is a Certified Organic vegetable farm located in Neergabby. It grows a range of vegetables throughout the year including celery, kale, broccoli and lettuce, and seasonal crops of cauliflower, cabbages and zucchini. Gingin Organics grows, harvests, and prepacks all its vegetables for Woolworths supermarkets under their Macro brand.

Lynda Harding is the General Manager of the operation, which encompasses a range of jobs from running the farm and supervising employees to human resources and overseeing the business’ finances.

Lynda and her husband Noel began the business in October 2003 as a conventional low-chill stone fruit orchard producing peaches and nectarines.

“I learnt very quickly that the way we were growing fruit was not sustainable in terms of our personal health, environmentally or economically,” Lynda says.

“We commenced growing stone fruit organically and achieved Organic Certification in 2010; however, we found that we just had too much fruit for a limited market. As the fruit was low-chill stone fruit varieties, we were unable to ‘export’ them to Australia’s east coast due to quarantine requirements, as they did not retain the required shelf-life.

“In 2012, I started looking for other options. At this point – even though we were Certified Organic — the farm was not paying for itself, and Noel was having to work away to supplement it. After speaking with the local market agents, I determined there was a gap in supply of lettuce and kale and started growing them.”

Growing vegetables was a steep learning curve. “Vegetables need more regular management than trees,” explains Lynda. “With trees, it’s like prune, feed, thin, feed, harvest — take six months off — and start again. Whereas vegetables are like plant, feed, weed, feed, weed, feed, harvest, plant – and maybe take Christmas off.

“However, the advantage of vegetables is that if something goes wrong such as pest or disease incursion, it can be mowed in and planted again.”

Lynda says pests and weeds are the among the biggest challenges for any organic vegetable grower, along with maintaining a continuous supply of a good quality product.

“We manage these issues by keeping our soil healthy. Integrated Pest Management is an important component of this, and crop scouting is another critical task that helps with the prevention of outbreaks,” Lynda says.

Hard work is key to disease resistance and ongoing sustainability on the farm.

“We use biologicals to create a healthy soil so that we can grow healthy plants. We maintain a good balance and level of beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes. We also stopped disturbing our soil by hoeing and usually only disturb the top 3 cm of the soil,” Lynda explains.

Gingin Organics started supplying vegetables to the general marketplace in early 2012 but a year later, realised that the marketplace for organics was too erratic to be sustainable.
“I contacted all the major supermarkets to see if there was interest in Gingin Organics growing for them and only one supermarket took us seriously,” Lynda says.

“In mid-2013, we were in touch with an organic produce expeditor who helped organise the supply of our stone fruit to Woolworths for the 2013 season — we were finally able to move the bulk of our fruit into the supermarket.

“Unfortunately, it was still not enough economically and with the demand for organics growing, we were able to work with Woolworths to create a plan to grow and supply kale.”

Although Lynda works tirelessly and the days can be long, she enjoys the challenge of seeing the produce through from seedling to store as well as working to improve Gingin Organics’ process lines.

The operation is focused on increasing productivity so it can reduce the economic cost of organic produce. This includes introducing machinery to streamline the cutting and trimming process of vegetables such as celery and broccoli.

Becoming a Certified Organic grower also has its challenges and achieving Certified status in 2010 was a proud moment for Lynda and Noel. This followed three years of implementing organic practices and on-farm management.

“Because your way of growing changes, you’re dealing with pest and disease incursions. We managed to get to the end of the three years without having to go backwards – like having an incursion where you must use chemicals that put you back to being a conventional grower,” Lynda says.

“It was really hard to do, but we put in the work and got it done.”
You can get in touch with Gingin Organics via their website www.ginginorganics.com.au.