The Syngenta Grower of the Year award recognises outstanding achievement across all aspects of horticultural production, including growing, environmental management, staff management and quality of produce. It also acknowledges grower commitment to innovation and advancing the Australian horticulture industry. In this edition, past winners Peter Schreurs, Jim Trandos, Scott Samwell and Jason Shields chat with Michelle De’Lisle about the award and its significance. The Syngenta Grower of the Year award will feature again in 2021 at the National Awards for Excellence, which will be held at Hort Connections in June.

Receiving the 2018 Syngenta Grower of the Year award at Hort Connections was ‘an immense honour’ for South Australian vegetable grower Scott Samwell.

“I’m still staggered that I received it. As with all growers, we are always trying to grow the best crop we can,” Scott says.

The accolades kept coming for Scott, who is Managing Director of Eastbrook Vegetable Farms in the Adelaide Hills township of Mount Barker. He received a place in the Syngenta Growth Awards program, which allowed him to travel extensively and network.

“I travelled to the United Kingdom and Switzerland looking at innovations in plant varieties and crop protection products, while getting to know some great fellow growers, agronomists and research scientists,” Scott says.

“Winning the Grower of the Year award certainly opened the door to the program.”

Scott’s role within the family business is broad – he oversees all operations outside the packing sheds, including growing, irrigation, nutrition, pest and disease control, harvesting, labour, food safety and ethical assurance programs.

“As with any horticultural enterprise, our roles cross over and cover all aspects of food production. This is what makes our industry so vibrant and exciting – one never knows what may or may not happen,” Scott says.

Eastbrook Vegetable Farms produces Brussels sprouts (green and purple varieties), Kalettes, hay, wine grapes and beef cattle over several properties that add up to around 500 hectares.

“Over a season, we are growing an average of 60-70 tonnes of sprouts per week. Our vegetable waste is fed to our beef cattle, which produces high quality marbling in the meat. On one of our properties, we have a vineyard that supplies Bleasdale Winery with Malbec, Shiraz and Cabernet grape varietals.”

Improvement focus

There have been no significant innovations currently in the business, Scott says.

“However, we are always improving and building on what we are already doing. This means improving quality and efficiencies, reducing waste thereby improving yield,” he adds.

“The last 12 months have really shown how important horticulture is. The story of food production needs to be told to show that there are so many moving parts that make up the production of food. From business management to food safety and quality control, to agronomy, logistics, R&D, maintenance, engineering – the list goes on and on. It’s all required and needed.”

There are no major plans for Eastbrook Vegetable Farms, with the operation simply continuing to strive to improve on each season.

“This means there is always constant fine tuning of systems and procedures, using new innovations in plant varieties, pest control and soil health to improve quality and consistency,” Scott explains.

“My role hasn’t changed in the past couple of years. Our industry is very dynamic, and this was certainly seen over the last 12 months through COVID-19. This means that as fresh produce suppliers, we need to be on our toes ready to act and move in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

“I enjoy the challenge of producing fresh, nutritious produce in a sustainable and environmentally safe way.”