The past 15 months have been a whirlwind of hard work and long hours for Stuart Grigg. In this time, Stuart and his family have established Bolwarrah Springs, a broccoli growing operation at Bolwarrah, situated north-west of Melbourne – all the while continuing to run his agricultural consulting business and engaging in vegetable industry activities. AUSVEG’s Michelle De’Lisle catches up with Stuart to chat about his latest venture.

Stuart Grigg was born for a career in the vegetable industry. He fondly remembers helping his father, Max, on the family’s vegetable growing property in Devon Meadows and selling produce at the Footscray Markets (the egg and bacon sandwiches for breakfast were also a highlight of visiting the markets for young Stuart!)

“I’ve loved veggies from an early age,” Stuart says.

“I studied horticultural science at the University of Melbourne’s Burnley Campus and wasn’t quite sure which part of horticulture I was going into. I majored in production horticulture and after I graduated from uni, I grew roses for about three years and hops and tobacco for another three in the Ovens Valley.

“However, it was never quite me. I love roses and Kate (Stuart’s wife) and I enjoyed the Ovens Valley – but the faster moving field horticultural environment is where my passion lies.”

Following his love for all things vegetables, Stuart – with the support of Kate – started their agronomic consulting business 11 years ago. The business, Stuart Grigg Ag-Hort Consulting, is based in Ballan, 80 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.

As an agronomist, Stuart connects with and supports the entire vegetable supply chain including growers, marketers and nurseries, and has built a strong industry network, especially in his home state of Victoria.

It was these connections and the ongoing passion for vegetables that lured Stuart back to his vegetable growing roots, with the Griggs purchasing a 148- acre property at Bolwarrah, about 25 kilometres east of Ballarat on the fringe of Hepburn Spa country, in early 2021.

A growing business

One of Stuart’s strongest relationships has been forged with Werribee South-based Fresh Select. It has culminated with Stuart growing 35 acres of broccoli for the business, which is one of Australia’s largest lettuce and brassica operations. The Griggs are currently leasing acreage to a livestock farmer and another paddock to local potato grower Neville

Quinlan from Quinlan Farming, while producing broccoli themselves.

“Fresh Select was very supportive of our decision to grow vegetables, and keen to be involved in the operation to produce broccoli outside of the Werribee region. Fresh Select’s customers’ needs were growing, and the Ballan family and John Said (Fresh Select owners) have supported us immensely in making that happen,” Stuart says.

It wasn’t an easy process. In one year, Stuart – with the help of his parents, Kate and her parents and Fresh Select – turned a former Blue Gum block and pasture paddock that had very limited fencing and infrastructure, no shed and just one laneway – into a fully-fitted vegetable growing operation, Bolwarrah Springs.

“We’ve built endless in-field irrigation infrastructure, fences a plenty and shedding. We picked up a huge number of rocks and sticks left over from the previous blue gum plantation and have drained the wet areas, giving us a property that is beginning to work,” Stuart says.

The Victorian vegetable industry has lent its support to Stuart and Kate as they establish their growing operation, while Stuart is still running his consulting business.

“Many of our clients who we’ve worked with for a number of years reached out with encouragement and offers to help us,” Stuart says.

“Dino Boratto gave us a motor, pump, some irrigation infrastructure and fencing posts. The Young family supplied a specialised drip irrigation filter, John Zausa provided us with an irrigation pipe and Adam Schreurs gifted a whole heap of fencing wire and posts. We very much appreciate everyone’s support.”

“Fresh Select was very supportive of our decision to grow vegetables, and keen to be involved in the operation to produce broccoli outside of the Werribee region."

Machinery focus

Stuart says labour has been a major challenge so far. He’s had to modify his machinery to fit in with the minimal tillage growing techniques being used on-farm.

“One of the biggest challenges we see in research – particularly through the Soil Wealth and Integrated Crop Protection project (Stuart is a steering committee member) – is that the machinery is not there. Some of the research guides us down a path where mainstream mechanisation does not exist in terms of soil management, crop management, planting, seeding and nutrition management – in many cases, a huge number of modifications are required,” Stuart says.

“It also takes investment and capital, plus people with good know-how. That’s where Fresh Select has been very supportive, in particular the workshop team. They have been able to interpret my ideas and then modify and manufacture equipment that really support sustainable farming practices.”

Stuart believes more can be done in the R&D space when it comes to mechanisation, including implementing research findings.

“One of the biggest challenges is research adaptation,” he says.

“I’ve been fortunate enough that my brother Daniel works in broadacre agriculture. So, in terms of reduced tillage and minimum tillage, I’ve been able to look over the fence and see what happens in broadacre. There’s also a lot of spraying and application technology used in broadacre, ready for adaption into intensive horticulture.

“Precision agriculture techniques have been widely used in broadacre for a long time. I can really see the benefits and it has been a focus of mine in my consultancy for the last couple of years, introducing it to the vegetable industry and encouraging its use with our clients. It is also nice to now be able to ‘practice what I have been preaching’ on our own farm and see the success it’s bringing.

“Adapting machinery to suit our needs assists in how we manage labour and how we can still produce crops efficiently and effectively when we’re facing labour challenges.

“We can use this mechanisation to work with soils and the environment a lot better as well as produce a better planted crop that’s more sustainable longer term.”

Active engagement

In addition to his consulting business, growing operation and participation in the Soil Wealth and ICP project, Stuart is actively involved in Area wide management of vegetable diseases: viruses and bacteria (VG16086) and the Australian potato industry communication and extension project (PotatoLink; PT20000). These are strategic levy investments under the Hort Innovation Vegetable, and Fresh – Potato and Potato – Processing Funds respectively.

Stuart enjoys participating in these projects, but he says the aim is to make sure that the projects deliver practical outcomes.

Through PotatoLink, Stuart is the agronomist for the Ballarat region plus he is currently hosting a potato trial site on his farm where he has teamed up with fifth-generation potato grower Neville Quinlan.

“I’ll be open and honest and say I’m about six months into understanding the finer details of potato cropping, so I’ve got a lot more to learn. What I’ve learnt from the team in the last six months has been invaluable,” he says.

Pride in the industry

Stuart’s enthusiasm and willingness to share industry knowledge is endless, and it’s this passion that he is proud to share with others.

“Working with the Soil Wealth and ICP team has been fantastic and the knowledge and dissemination of information that I’ve been able to share with people throughout the industry has been brilliant,” he says.

Another proud moment was hosting the 2020 East Gippsland Vegetable Days, which was held in May – two months after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared worldwide.

“The East Gippsland Vegetable Innovation Days that Andrew Bulmer, myself and the team were able to deliver was an absolute cracker,” Stuart says.

“It was a huge amount of work, but what we were able to put on as a small group in East Gippsland – which involved my wife Kate, Bonnie Dawson, Noel Jansz, Jodie O’Brien and Daniel Hammond – was phenomenal.

“EGVID 2020 was captured virtually in many forms, and the high-quality video production my brother, Braden, and his wife Emma, put together for us and the wider vegetable industry is a brilliant ongoing legacy. It’s a credit to all, how we were able to adapt. Everyone came along for the ride.”

Finally, being a grower is never easy and Stuart admits establishing the farm has been hard work.

“It’s put a huge amount of pressure on our family to make it happen, but we’ve had brilliant support from a lot of people,” he says.

“I’ve been working up to 90 hours a week at times. But that’s what you do to try and make it happen.”

“The first year has been a big learning curve for us – and now that we’ve seen what we can do, we can go onto bigger and better things.”

Acknowledgments

Stuart would like to thank the following people who have helped the Griggs to establish their growing operation: Schreurs & Sons, Boratto Farms, the Fresh Select team, Redgold, John Zausa and Bulmer Farms.

Family ties

Most importantly, Stuart would like to thank his wife, Kate, and their children Eamon, Kiara, and Bridie, for their ongoing support.

Cheers all,

Stu.

This industry member 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 three months, email communications@ausveg.com.au. Please include your postal address.

Photography credit: Ian Wilson.