Austin Lenord: A spinach star on the rise
Austin Lenord is a 28-year-old grower from Koala Farms in Gatton, Queensland. We profiled him in the November/December 2017 edition of Vegetables Australia magazine.
Name: Austin Lenord
Location: Gatton, QLD
Works: Koala Farms
Grows: Baby leaf spinach
How did you first become involved in the vegetable industry?
I started working for Koala Farms in the maintenance crew as a mechanic at the start of 2016. After about six months, Anthony (Staatz, owner of Koala Farms) asked if I would like to join the production team and do more with the growing side of the company.
What does your role in the business involve, and what are your responsibilities?
At the start of 2017, we started growing baby leaf spinach. I took on the role of Spinach Crew Leader/Manager. I look after the spinach from A-Z; from making sure ground preparation is done, pre- water, herbicides, planting and growing, spraying and pest/disease management, harvest and then sale of product. I have a team of four workers to help out with the day-to-day running and 8-10 people on harvest days.
What do you enjoy most about working in the vegetable industry and how do you maintain your enthusiasm?
I grew up on a sheep and dry land wheat station in western New South Wales. There was not much water and it was very dusty, but I enjoyed farming and the freedom. With vegetables, I still get the freedom of being on a farm and working outside. It is easy to maintain enthusiasm at Koala Farms – the business is growing and expanding so fast that there are always new challenges. I have only been in production for 12 months so there are plenty of things for me to learn every day.
In your opinion, what areas of research are important to the vegetable industry and your business?
I believe soil health and disease management are extremely important within the vegetable industry. Every farmer is trying to grow more and have a faster crop turnaround, so these areas are key to any success.
You attended the East Gippsland Vegetable Innovation Days in May this year. What did you learn, and how beneficial are these events to the veg industry?
Events like this are great. Not only can growers meet and interact with fellow growers, it is an opportunity for companies to showcase their latest and greatest vegetable industry-focused products.
I think the masterclass on spinach that was held at the Innovation Days was very useful. It talked a lot about soil heath and heathy growing practices, which can make big differences in product production.
"I think all young people should get a trade or university course behind them first, but after that farming is a good outdoors job. Young people need to understand the opportunities that are provided within the vegetable industry."
Where do you see opportunities for growth in the Australian vegetable industry?
I think customers these days don’t have time for/want to do much when it comes to food preparation, so there is room for growth in the packet salad or fresh pre-prepared vegetables market.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I will still be at Koala Farms. Hopefully we will have grown, and set up a large spinach program that I can oversee or possibly move up a notch to becoming Farm Manager.
How do you think more young people could be encouraged to study and take up jobs in the vegetable industry?
I think all young people should get a trade or university course behind them first, but after that farming is a good outdoors job. Young people need to understand the opportunities that are provided within the vegetable industry and the size and scale of which it is.
Have you got anything else to add that may be of interest to readers, and the wider vegetable industry?
It would be good to bridge the gap between consumers (people who buy for the supermarket) and growers. Consumers want such a perfect-looking vegetable these days, and they don’t understand the amount of work that goes into producing that.