Kevin Hoang is a 30-year-old grower from HP Fresh Produce in Marrakai, Northern Territory. We profiled him in the Summer 2019 edition of Vegetables Australia magazine.

Fast facts

Name: Kevin Hoang
Age: 30
Location: Marrakai, NT
Works: HP Fresh Produce Pty Ltd
Grows: Okra

How did you first become involved in the vegetable industry?

I first got a taste for horticulture in 2009. Originally from Melbourne and studying IT (Computer Science and Software Development), I came to Darwin on a holiday and was helping my Aunty pick bitter melon on her farm. After graduating, I could not find a desirable job so I decided to work on my Aunty’s farm for a living. I entered the vegetable industry in 2016.

What does your role in the business involve, and what are your responsibilities?

As a small business, I pretty much have to handle most of farming duties including soil tillage, seeding, fertigation, spraying, managing day-to-day picking and packing, communicating with wholesalers, quality control and maintaining farm machinery. My responsibilities are to make sure the farm is running smoothly, the fruits are picked on-time, the quality meets our client standards, and that the crops are staying healthy and free of disease. And the most important thing is that the business is making a profit.

What do you enjoy most about working in the vegetable industry and how do you maintain your enthusiasm?

I love to see things growing from the dirt. Nature is amazing. As a vegetable grower, it is a proud moment when you’re doing your job well and are recognised by other growers around you. Strengthening your business reputation in the market, and having people in the industry who know your name, is the prize that every grower wants to achieve. To maintain that enthusiasm, I have to hold myself to a high standard. I keep studying from several sources to update the latest technology in the industry. And I always think about advancing my career.

What are the biggest challenges you face working in the industry, and how do you overcome them?

Challenges for vegetable growers are pretty much the same. Pests, diseases, yield, the ratio between input in the business and income to make the business profitable, the weather in the Northern Territory, and the market. Here’s a few key issues:


Caterpillars are the most destructive insect of vegetables. They are hard to control because moths lay eggs every day. A day later, egg masses hatch and become larvae and start feeding on the leaves and then the pod. Two-spotted mites are another big problem up here. They are resistant to most of the chemicals available now, and their reproduction is fast enough that if we do not have proper managing plans, mites can wipe off the entire crop in a matter of four weeks.

For the first year, I had no experience of pest management and I sprayed hard chemicals aggressively like other growers around. This method did not seem to work very well. Then in the second year, I started attending Integrated Pest Management (IPM) demonstrations, which were being hosted by NT Farmers. This is a way of pest control by reducing the spraying of hard chemicals; introducing biological-friendly insecticides, fungicides, fertilities; and releasing good insects to keep the population of bad insects acceptable low. Overall, after two years of practicing this approach, I have significantly improved yield. I have reduced the yield lost from pests, have less input by reduced spraying, and a better fertility program. Through this approach, I have turned over more profit to invest in better input products, and the farm now is moving towards an organic system. Hopefully we can be organic in five years’ time.


Due to the extreme dry season in the NT, powdery mildew and downy mildew can decrease the yield and shorten the life of plants. Root-knot nematodes are also big problem every grower in NT has to face. I did some research and started taking action to improve the soil condition and increase organic matter – micro- and macro-organisms in the soil would help to reduce those diseases above without using too many chemicals. So, the key learning for me is to be a successful grower, I need to maintain biodiversity in my growing area and keep the growing environment as similar as possible to the natural environment. Less chemical spraying allows predatory insects balance the pests themselves. I think going organic is the right way of long-term farming.


By monitoring fertigation input and engaging in regular soil testing, we can maximise soil fertility and achieve the best results. By careful undertaking a soil fertility program, I have recorded a yield increase of 1.5 times compared to the first year, and I keep getting it higher over the years.

"We have dry seasons and wet seasons that are too long, which poses a big challenge for veggie growers in the NT."

How does growing vegetables differ in the Northern Territory to the rest of Australia? Are there any challenges that you, as a grower up in the NT, face (that other growers may not?)

We have dry seasons and wet seasons that are too long, which poses a big challenge for veggie growers in the NT. During the Dry Season, we have extreme windy conditions which bring a lot of pests and disease to the crop. This includes mites, fruit damage and fungus, while low-temperatures and drought contribute to poor nitrogen levels and poor moisture in the soil. On the other hand, during the Wet Season we have more caterpillars, while heavy rain and thunderstorms could take the plants down and reduce crop quality. Also, by this time, we have higher competition from other states as growers start their season.

Where do you receive your on-farm practice advice and information from?

From NT Farmers: They provide courses, the IPM demo sites and the fact sheets; the Internet: I have done a lot of research and studying in horticulture; Other growers: Fence-to-fence conversations are very useful, so we know what others doing and exchanging experiences is a great way of learning; From agronomists: they are great at introducing good products and the latest innovations in horticulture.

What new innovations, research and/or practices has your business implemented recently? What are you doing differently to other grower operations?

My farm was one of the first to adopt IPM practices when it was first introduced in NT. We’ve found ourselves recording our second successful year in a row by adopting IPM. At first, people were doubtful about what we were doing, and it was supposed that we could fail. But the result was terrific – we got less insects, less diseases and more crop than anyone else around growing okra. Now some people have started practising an IPM program like we did.

I invented a spraying boom which can spray four rows at the same time. Conventional spraying available in the market can only spray one row at a time. With this new implement, I have reduced spraying time to three times; it is 2.5 times less fuel to run tractor; two-times less chemical run-off as the new boom gets closer nozzles to the plants so less pump pressure is needed, therefore there is less chemical fall-off.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I want to keep doing what I am doing now. But as I said, I would try to become an organic grower. I will also look to expand the business to grow more crops so they can be rotated around.

How do you think more young people and women could be encouraged to study and take up jobs in the vegetable industry?

The vegetable industry is highly labour-intensive. It requires a lot of work done outdoors. I see young people that could potentially handle these jobs. Vegetables are essential part of the food chain and are important for people’s dietary intake. With more people involved in this industry, we can provide higher quality, safer veggies to consumers and consumers can have a cheaper, healthier diet. This industry also provides a lot of career opportunities for young people. It is challenging but if you succeed, the reward is generous.

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: Nicole Taylor Photography