Nearly 17 years ago, Andrew Braham left the transport industry and established Braham Produce in the South Australian town of Virginia. Originally growing cucumbers and tomatoes, he switched to growing capsicums in greenhouses in 2006 and has since built up a strong reputation for producing quality fresh produce.

Fast facts

Name: Andrew Braham
Location: Virginia, SA
Works: Braham Produce
Grows: Capsicum

Andrew Braham is always striving to improve as a grower and his business, Braham Produce, is a testament to this.

Situated in Virginia, 30 kilometres north of Adelaide, the growing operation produces 40,000 premium capsicum (bell pepper) plants in greenhouses for major market agents from the end of November until July. Andrew and his wife Zurriyet oversee the business, which has undergone many changes since it was established at the end of 2001.

Andrew’s main focus includes experimenting with different ways of adding on-farm value and implementing systems that will benefit the entire growing operation.

“I enjoy trying new things and seeing something that’s come from a little plant, growing from six inches tall to eight foot tall. They’re like little babies – you’re nurturing them all the way, and it’s rewarding to see that occur,” he says.

A biological approach

The most successful change to the business occurred around six years ago, when Braham Produce switched to an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to ease the pest pressure affecting the crops. IPM is a farm management strategy that brings together different practices and control methods (such as the use of beneficial insects) to minimise chemical use and fight weeds, pests and diseases.

Working with Biological Services, Braham Produce was one of the first businesses in the Virginia region to not only convert sections of the farm to IPM but the entire growing operation – and Andrew hasn’t looked back.

“We’ve got no withholding periods so when the fruit is ready to harvest, we can harvest,” Andrew explains.

“The plant’s less stressed because you’re not spraying chemicals on it and upsetting it. It’s better for the fruit. You can see on the fruit that it’s shinier and much healthier; and it’s better for us as workers too. We’re not going into a chemical environment – it’s a clean, fresh air environment.

“We’re always trying new varieties to see which ones would have more resistance. We’re looking to improve things in a more biological way rather than chemical.”

Andrew believes that undertaking beneficial bug research is important to the vegetable industry as a whole. As pests can develop resistance to crop protection products, there are benefits to growers exploring other avenues such as IPM.

“We need to be able to combat these pests because they cause a significant amount of damage. They can cripple your business overnight if you’re not careful,” Andrew says.

“We also need to know about what we can do to maintain our soils and make them healthier, using less inputs and becoming environmentally friendly so we can be more sustainable and viable.”

"We’re very different in Australia, everyone is a closed shop; whereas if you go to Europe, everyone’s more willing to help each other. Here, it’s a bit more like everyone’s trying to compete with each other – and what we should be doing is trying to help each other because if we do, we end up with a better result."

In addition to changing the way crops are protected from pests, Andrew has implemented many new features into the greenhouses. These include greenhouse structures and lighting, and watering systems.

Irrigation practices have also undergone a transformation. Andrew was the first to trial new software associated with an irrigation machine, and this technology assists in feeding the plants the correct amount of water and nutrients as well as monitoring the frequency of which this occurs. This has taken out the need for guesswork and allows Andrew to monitor the plants more closely.

Andrew says that it is important for growers to embrace on-farm technology as the industry evolves.

“Everything’s changing – every minute, every day; it’s fast. Twenty years ago, the return (on produce) used to be really good – you could probably do one crop a year and you’d survive for that year. Now because of the competitiveness that’s coming into the industry, especially from overseas, you need to be more competitive now than ever.

“If you make one mistake or lose one thing, you can lose your business. You’ve got to be really conscious about money and what you do. We’re after as much yield as we can get because that’s the difference between surviving and not surviving.”

Future in focus

At this stage, there are no plans for Braham Produce to branch out into any other crop; the focus is firmly on advancing the technology and varietal lines of capsicums to enhance the crop quality.

“We want to keep growing while asking seed and equipment companies to improve on things,” Andrew says.

“One per cent improvement on one thing can lead to a big improvement all the way down the line.”

Andrew says his business is in the lucky position where there is high demand for the quality fruit that it grows. The relationships between Braham Produce and its three major customers stem back since the beginning and it has blossomed over that time.

Quality is key, he says.

“If you’ve got the quality, and you’re consistent in your quality – that’s what people want.”

Andrew believes that the Australian vegetable industry can open its communication lines and collaborate to achieve results. He pointed to Europe as an example.

“We’re very different in Australia, everyone is a closed shop; whereas if you go to Europe, everyone’s more willing to help each other. Here, it’s a bit more like everyone’s trying to compete with each other – and what we should be doing is trying to help each other because if we do, we end up with a better result,” he says.

“What we should do is look at being less chemical and more biological. We need to do that sort of stuff over here too, which will benefit everybody.”

This grower profile first appeared in the leading magazine for the Australian vegetable industry, Vegetables Australia. If you’d like to subscribe to receive a new edition of Vegetables Australia in your mailbox every two months, use our online subscription form!

Photography credit: asbCreative