Thriving horticultural business homes in on technology
Large-scale mixed enterprise venture, Bonaccord Group, is preparing for the next phase of its technical evolution. This is following a sustained period of growth and development across its 1,720-hectare operation, located outside Walpa in eastern Victoria. Vegetables Australia reports.
Bonaccord Group is a multi-faceted business that grows cabbage, cauliflower, beans, sweetcorn, salad leaves, broccoli and potato alongside barley, cattle and the operation of a freight business boasting a fleet of 52 trucks. Despite its breadth and scale, it retains the heart of a family farm and is headed by four brothers and their wives.
Bonaccord Group Director, Gerald Ingram, said the venture relied on a John Deere fleet of equipment, including a powerful lineup of 36 tractors, an L340 Baler, 1725NT ExactEmerge™ Planter and two R4023 Sprayers to help supply 30,000 tonnes of fresh produce to markets in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane each year.
Mr Ingram said connected equipment recording accurate farm data to automate machine functions would become increasingly imperative to the business moving forward.
“We see machinery technology as something that is going to grow and evolve and will be a lifelong project for the next generation,” Mr Ingram said.
“Just one example where I see this coming into play, is in protecting our assets. Our business has an extensive underground network of pipes for our irrigation, and some of these pipes are quite shallow.
“We want to get to the stage where we can send our 8R into any field with deep ripping equipment, and the tractor can automatically know there is a shallow mainline and lift the implement.
“It’s information like this we will rely on our technology for, as it can be a challenge to pass this on to our next generation of employees.”
The work rolls on 52 weeks of the year for the Ingram family as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are planted weekly, slotting in alongside seasonal sowing in September for beans and sweetcorn.
John Deere technology already plays a vital role in streamlining the workflow of Bonaccord Group’s team of 120 people, which swells to 250 in the peak harvest season. Most machines are connected through JDLink™ to relay almost-real-time data to the operations centre and create an instant snapshot of task progression.
“We are monitoring the operations centre all the time,” Mr Ingram said.
“It’s very important to our managers as after our toolbox meeting – where we talk through tasks for the day with operators – we can easily see how they are progressing by glancing at our phones.
“This means we are not having to hassle them, and we are leaving them to do their jobs.”
At seeding, all machines operate on GPS steering to not only help to optimise productivity but to soften the impact of rising fuel costs.
The Ingram family transitioned to John Deere machinery in the early 1990s, starting with a 2250 tractor.
“At the time, John Deere offered us excellent backup support and was extremely helpful when we were in our infancy,” Mr Ingram said.
“Since then, it has been part of the journey with us.”
Mr Ingram also praised his local dealership, Brandt Maffra, for an ongoing commitment to minimising machinery downtime and providing swift access to parts.
Looking ahead, Mr Ingram is eager to see the next generation of family members make use of the horticulture industry’s vast opportunities.
Already, there are six members of the third generation working within the business, in roles spanning from quality assurance management and marketing to hands-on positions, such as diesel fitters in the machinery shed or field operators.
“The food industry in Australia has a promising outlook, because, at the end of the day, there is a growing population and people need to eat,” Mr Ingram said.
“There is always a challenge in knowing what the next buzz crop is to grow, but we see our future in bringing the staple vegetables to market.”
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Cover image: Bonaccord Group Director, Gerald Ingram, with a John Deere 8R 280.