Tell us about Boomaroo Nurseries and the seedlings it provides.

Boomaroo Nurseries provides seedlings to customers Australia-wide, primarily in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. We dispatch around 300 million seedlings per year, supplying around 300 vegetable growers per year and deal with around 150 growers per fortnight.

Boomaroo Nurseries is integrated into the supply chain, we talk with customers and check our crops in field to make sure they are performing well. While we don’t give advice (we’re not agronomists), we give feedback to growers. If there are areas where we can add value to growers we pass this on – it might be a recommendation to talk to an agronomist; it may be a recommendation to talk to a produce agent.

Supplying seedlings is what we do to support our position in the supply chain, but it is only a part of the service that we provide to growers. Our relationships have proven that; we’ve been dealing with the same growers for years and years and years – many of them three decades plus.

I am a vegetable grower by trade, which gives me a true insight into the difficulties that veggie growers can experience – it gives our business the insight into meeting their needs better. I think that’s one of the great advantages Boomaroo Nurseries has.

What are your company values and how do you live them with the work you do?

Quality, Service and Reliability – not only through our product but also how our business works within the supply chain.

The industry is evolving, and we need to develop new systems and new technologies and new ideas of how to service the industry as its needs change. We need to be able to do it effectively, efficiently, economically and in a timely manner – that’s something we take very seriously. From year to year we are constantly looking at new crops that we can be involved with, or fine-tuning grow times –around 10 per cent of total time of our sales team is dedicated to looking at new varieties and how they fit into different areas, going to field trials and initiating field trials at our growers’ on farm – they are added areas that we provide value to our customers.

Our commitment to our customers is to make sure that they are seeing new product every year so that they are at the forefront of where they need to be so that they are economical and sustainable.

Whenever we bring in an initiative that may save money, we share it – we share our efficiencies with our growers.
In addition to this, our sponsorship of the Women in Horticulture event and award [at Hort Connections] is an example of how we promote diversity, as well as our employment history with refugees and disadvantaged people. We look at where we can participate in things that are different and that bring benefit to our community in addition to what we provide as a product.

We are community citizens – our staff donate some of their time every year to feeding the needy and supporting local charities and initiatives. And that’s who we are as a company. We are proud of that and our staff are proud of that as well.

Boomaroo is also proud of the fact that we train our people – you come on board and we develop training programs. We have a high expectation of our staff; they have to perform in their role, but they are very proud of working with us and the fact that we are good corporate community citizens.

In mid-2019, you’re opening a new nursery near Toowoomba in Queensland. How will the Queensland site differ to the one at Lara in Victoria? What are its main features?

The Toowoomba site is designed to deliver quality for our customers. There is innovation in every part of the site – it’s not just about growing plants. Every little bit of it is designed to deliver benefit, including fibre optics so that we can utilise innovative technologies into the future. We had the option to use the same systems as what we’ve got, which would probably have been cheaper in the short-term, but what we have done is build a nursery that is able to stay at the cutting edge for as long as possible, to produce product as good as possible, using technologies that are available today and will be available in the future.

[Like Lara], it’s a no-touch system, but this site allows us the opportunity to use less labour hours to produce plants.

It’s an exciting system using world’s best practice, with things like state-of-the-art germination chambers and the automated loading benches. Everything was needed to be tailor-made for us as it’s never been done before. We’ve got some great partners around the world to design and build machinery and systems, and to develop software and the facilities that make the new site incredibly unique.

The germination chambers are an integral part in growing a uniform product. They are fully-automated and their flexibility still amazes me – we have different requirements for different crops (e.g. temperature, duration in chamber) – so being able to stack them in there and pull them out when they are exactly at the right stage is something that I’ve never seen.

The new site has been modelled after a tulip facility in Europe, and we looked at how they’ve handled the product in and out and then tried to apply that type of thinking to vegetables, because our market is different to overseas markets due to size and proximity of the customer base.

We handle 150+ lines weekly, 17 grow profiles that we handle on a weekly basis and we have to deliver the plants on the day, so that all gets fed into the computer system, and we sow on the day to deliver on the day. A customer may have five products that fit into five different growth profiles, which might have five different sow days – all required on one delivery day – so it’s quite complex. The new site will allow us to continue to reliably provide customers with quality product that meets their needs.

The site is different to Lara as it doesn’t have glass – Queensland is a different climate, so we need to look at the requirements to grow high-quality, uniform product and make sure we are meeting those requirements. We have had a finishing site up there for six years, with good experience gained in Queensland over this period to what the conditions are like.

If sales go well with the first stage we will be able to supply 100 million plants within two years from this site. The nursery is designed to cope with producing over 300 million plants and it’s also designed to have a green life arm attached to it as well.

How is this new site compared with others in Australia?

This new site is going to set the benchmark [again] for Australia, probably the southern hemisphere, for some time. Most of these technologies are not new, but their application into vegetables for vegetable seedling production is new in Australia. The day we finish this, it will be the most automated of its type in the world, and the next one that gets built will probably be a bit better, but that’s the way of the world. If you look at where the industry is going, if you’re not at the cutting edge, then you’re probably going to get left behind.

How will Boomaroo support the Queensland market with this expansion?

Our sales team will work hard to integrate with growers in the region, which is quite unique. Our competitors may have salespeople, but they are focused on sales; our sales team are trained to spend a lot of time on different areas, including new varieties and new chemistries, to bring a vast amount of knowledge to growers’ businesses and we encourage our salespeople to think about the industry as a whole – we are focused on the industry as well as the individual.

We will help Queensland’s growers by supporting their growth and encouraging innovation, showing them the technologies that are available to get to market quicker.

If my customer has success, I have success.

The new site is scheduled to be fully operational in May 2019 and we will continue to build relationships with producers in Queensland to help them grow quality product for their customers. I would encourage anyone who is interested in the new development to get in touch with us on 03 5282 2199.

This post appeared in the AUSVEG Weekly Update published 13 November 2018. Subscribe to the Update using our online form to receive the latest industry news in your inbox every week!

Images for this article were provided by Boomaroo Nurseries.