In this column, VegNET – Gippsland Regional Development Officer Bonnie Dawson introduces readers to the Victorian town of Orbost and the role it plays in sweetcorn production. Meanwhile, a range of extension activities continue to be held across the Gippsland region.

The unassuming town of Orbost in far-east Gippsland is better known for its historic timber logging industry; however, it plays a pivotal role in the world’s vast sweetcorn industry.

Spending a day within a small radius of the town, myself and Agriculture Victoria’s new Horticulture Industry Development Manager for Gippsland, Scott Botten, were able to see the whole process from seed breeding to sweetcorn production.

Gippsland Seed Services Head of Production Marni Riordon and Factory and Field Assistant Kelly Richardson stand below a colour sorter.

Snowy River Seeds has been a significant source of new sweetcorn varieties for decades. From the origins on a small block of land on the Snowy River flats outside of Orbost, these seed varieties are grown on every continent of the world.

It takes sweetcorn breeder, Damien Courtier, approximately 10 years to commercialise a new seed variety. Damien and his assistant, Lochy Richy, embrace disease and pest pressures in their crops and try to predict consumer’s tastes ten years into the future.

Going global

While the breeding process is supported and accelerated on properties with alternate seasons in north Queensland, Chile and Europe, the potential for Gippsland-bred seed to be supplied across the world is enabled by another Orbost business, Gippsland Seed Services.

Head of Production Marni Riordon is responsible for approximately 200 hectares of corn seed on properties surrounding Orbost and further afield across Gippsland. While Gippsland Seed Services has faced the same challenges in sourcing a workforce as the rest of the industry, investment in technology allows the seed grading facility to operate with a small team of about five workers and can process over 200 tonnes of seed each season. Seed is exported to over 40 countries, including the United Kingdom, Turkey and New Zealand.

Area wide management masterclass

In mid-April, VegNET – Gippsland hosted the Area wide management of vegetable diseases: viruses and bacteria (VG16086) project and the AUSVEG engagement and extension team.

A masterclass was delivered to local growers and agronomists, and sites were visited across South Gippsland and the Mitchell River Valley to collect samples from a variety of crops including snow peas and sugar snaps, sweetcorn, celery, lettuce and broccoli.

The researchers and scientists offered valuable insights to those growers who allowed us to scout their crops, and they asked many questions to better understand their growing practices.

Groups then gathered in Korumburra and Lindenow to hear about findings from VG16086 over the past three years. The samples that had been gathered from the local area that morning provided an engaging focal point for discussion.

The researchers were in their element showing off slides that had been prepared of fungal spores that demonstrated their reproductive potential. There was an excited energy in the room and it was clear that growers and agronomists have a thirst for more knowledge about the diseases that impact their production.

As well as diseased samples, the team gathered a number of suspected fall armyworm (FAW) specimens from within sweetcorn and lettuce crops. It is hoped that by the time this article goes to print, the region will have hosted the Agriculture Victoria team that is developing a field-based test for FAW after two false starts due to COVID-19 and severe weather.

This technology is vital for the industry to provide rapid diagnosis of suspected FAW and enabling appropriate control measures to minimise damage.

Spotlight on biosecurity

The VegNET – Gippsland Regional Extension Strategy will continue in its focus on on-farm biosecurity, providing support over the winter to those who would like to improve their risk reduction processes and exploring regional methods to minimise the impact of pests and disease on the region.

A workshop on Integrated Pest Management has been pencilled in for after Hort Connections – hopefully see you there!

To find out more about any of the projects or activities above, please contact Bonnie Dawson on the details below.

Find out more

Please contact VegNET – Gippsland Regional Development Officer Bonnie Dawson from Food and Fibre Gippsland on 0407 683 938 or email

VegNET 3.0 is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

This project has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Project Number: VG21000