Despite challenges emerging from recent droughts and the COVID-19 pandemic, one vegetable growing operation has flourished. Thanks to a major organisational restructure that took place in 2019, Butler Market Gardens continues to thrive, with almost 200 staff employed directly across many facets of the business.

Circumstances have changed for growers in recent times. Over the past three years, severe drought has impacted many businesses. More recently, COVID-19 has thrown up even more challenges, with suppliers to the food service industry losing significant sales as well as travel restrictions significantly reducing the availability of a suitable labour force. Typically, the horticulture industry relies on a large number of seasonal and overseas workers.

Butler Market Gardens (Aust) Pty Ltd® (BMG) – an Australian-owned sixth-generation business located in Melbourne’s south-east – has been able to overcome these obstacles and continue its growth strategy through careful planning and diversification of its operation and supply points.

A grower of spring onions, herbs, Asian and other bunched vegetables, BMG’s operations are very labour intensive and therefore, the business is reliant on good staff.

The diversity of growing environments, (a mix of field and heated greenhouses), means BMG grows products 12 months of the year. While there is a reduction in growing times during the winter months, staff are employed all-year-round.

Two years ago, BMG implemented a major organisational restructure that resulted in a flatter and broader structure, aimed at improving communication and for providing better input into decision-making. This has led to a more hands-on, dynamic, and adaptable management team. Since these changes were implemented, the business has gone from strength-to-strength by developing a work culture that is underpinned by the core values of leadership, quality, innovation and sustainability.

BMG’s market team.

Staff development

Specifically, BMG is excelling in the management and employment of 190 staff. All staff are employed directly by the business, with no use of contracted labour hire. This was a decision made over four years ago, and the company sees this as one of its best decisions and a competitive advantage over its competitors.

Staff work in a wide range of occupations, including farm and protected cropping production, harvest, packing, quality management, transport, maintenance, accounting, sales, marketing, human resources and safety. The business operates 24 hours a day as it has night drivers delivering produce and a wholesale market team selling to green grocers and other retailers, ensuring the freshest product is available to Victorian consumers every day.

The BMG harvest team pictured in the paddock.

BMG provides staff with challenging positions that they enjoy, along with the opportunity to learn and grow and ultimately, have a long-term career in the horticulture industry. It does not need to source staff from great distances – all staff are local to Melbourne’s south-east region. This provides the business with a great local feel, where staff are proud of the consistent high-quality products produced in and around the area that they live.

“Our people are our biggest asset, and we are continually working on strengthening our staff to ensure they are safe, productive, challenged, rewarded and know they are appreciated each day for their hard work and commitment,” BMG General Manager – People, Culture & Safety, James Donovan, said.

The business is also proud to be Sedex compliant, leading the way in ensuring that standards of labour, health and safety, environment and business ethics are all to a high standard.

Its next focus is to continue this transformation, particularly looking at production expansion and adoption of new technology to assist with communication, accuracy of information, and reduction of paper.

Find out more

For further information, please contact BMG General Manager – Sales & Marketing Andrew Smith on 0402 273 330 or email or visit the Butler Market Gardens website.

Cover image: Butler Market Gardens has almost 200 employees. Pictured is the packing shed team.