In August 2017, Nuffield Scholar and I Love Farms Managing Director Emma Germano released her report on the findings from her scholarship, which was undertaken in 2014. Vegetables Australia spoke to Emma about her Nuffield experience and how it has strengthened her industry knowledge and professional development.

A thirst for learning about the Australian export market and the opportunities it can provide led Victorian vegetable grower Emma Germano to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship in 2014. Emma is Managing Director of ‘I Love Farms’, a family business located in the southern Gippsland town of Mirboo North, which grows cauliflower and potatoes as well as sheep and beef.

The vegetable grower was successful in her application, and as a result travelled across Europe, the Middle East, North America and the Asia-Pacific where she examined competitor supply chains and product trends, and assessed export opportunities for the Australian vegetable industry. Emma released her wide-ranging report Growing the Pie: Export opportunities for Australian vegetable growers in August 2017.

The project Nuffield Scholarship was a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

Seeking knowledge

Emma’s desire to test herself and build on her existing awareness of export opportunities and each market’s context were her primary goals during the Nuffield scholarship.

“A lot of learnings that came out of the scholarship were a comparative understanding of the different markets and the different competitors in those markets,” she said.

Emma also recognised that the family farm gate returns were too low, which prompted her to investigate other market opportunities.

“We keep hearing about the fact that there is an overproduction in all of these different lines, and it’s too difficult to stop the overproduction, so you find out how to increase the demands for the product. Export is obviously one way of doing that, and it’s probably the biggest opportunity.”

Nuffield Scholar Emma Germano.

An international insight

The opportunity to travel around the world strengthened Emma’s personal growth and professional development, and also provided a clearer insight into the opportunities to improve Australia’s vegetable growing expertise.

“When I went overseas and started looking at some of the products available that are supplied from all around the world I realised that actually we’ve got a long way to go before we can call ourselves [Australia] the best producers,” she said.

“Everything that I’m doing now on-farm is generally a result of something I’ve learnt or seen, or a relationship or connection that I’ve made since I’ve been away.”

During her travels, Emma realised that the business size of I Love Farms meant that collaboration was necessary to break into the export market, which she managed to achieve during her scholarship studies.

“We’ve diversified further in our business so we’re becoming more focused on supplying the consumer directly,” she said.

“The wonderful thing about exporting is you get to negotiate your own price. You need good information and skills to do that, but if you put a price on an invoice, they pay you what you agreed to charge.

“We’re changing the direction of where and how we sell our produce and moving away from the idea of large volumes of commodity products.”

Further recommendations

Emma hopes that her Nuffield report will start a different conversation about exporting opportunities in the Australian vegetable industry.

“My report discusses how we’re geared towards serving one of the two in the duopoly, and that’s what most of our [Australian vegetable growers] effort goes into. Unless we start changing that mindset, we might not be able to capitalise on export opportunities like we think that we’re going to,” she says.

“I would like to see government funds – whether that be through the levy, or other types of grants or assistance – enabling us to test innovative products without expecting a grower to put a huge financial investment into creating new products, new product lines and niche offerings.

“If the government is truly dedicated to wanting to see our exports grow and horticulture grow, and agriculture in general grow in regards to what we offer other people around the world, there has to be funds put in to support that.”

Emma didn’t hesitate when asked if she would recommend that other members of the vegetable industry apply for the Nuffield Scholarship, as it provided an opportunity to meet with like-minded people who could share their experiences from different sectors of agriculture.

“There’s a lot of personal growth that comes out of that program because you’re by yourself for a long period of time, and you’re away from the business which enables you to have a different perspective.”

She strongly encouraged growers to have the courage to visit markets and farms wherever possible – even if it’s during a holiday – and investigate any potential opportunities for their business.

“When you receive a Nuffield Scholarship, you get addicted to visiting different farms. If you go on your Nuffield, you never stop being on your Nuffield.”

Find out more

To read Emma Germano’s report Growing the Pie: Export opportunities for Australian vegetable growers, please click here.

For more information, please visit the Nuffield website.

The Nuffield Scholarship was funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG11001