Mitchell East is a 23-year-old grower from Willara Gold in Manjimup, Western Australia. We profiled him in the September/October 2017 edition of Vegetables Australia magazine.

Fast facts

Name: Mitchell East
Location: Manjimup, WA
Works: Willara Gold
Grows: Broccoli, avocado, passionfruit

How did you first become involved in the vegetable industry?

I am a third generation vegetable farmer. My family has been farming in the region for over 60 years and I was raised on the farm. As a young boy I was always around what was happening on the farm, driving tractors, picking vegetables and learning invaluable skills. This gave me a practical skillset that has helped me throughout my life.

Although I wasn’t always interested in the farm – as I grew older I wanted to experience other things and further my knowledge, so at 18 I left for Perth. After five years of studying and working in the city I decided I wanted to be a part of something that I could be passionate about; a future that was both physical and rewarding – naturally, farming was an obvious fit. I already had the skills to get back into the farm lifestyle so I gradually went back to it working alongside my sister and my parents.

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

Over the past two years, I have been growing and managing a passionfruit crop which I am planning to expand this year. I am also looking to take on the broccoli program and hopefully implement some new practices. The rest of the time I take care of day-to-day management of the farm, from general maintenance to managing a crew of backpackers each day. The jobs on the farm change all the time as we have an array of tasks.

Broccoli and sheep are our main contributors but we are venturing into avocados and passionfruit. This is uncharted territory for us as we have always been vegetable growers, so fruit growing is a whole new ball game and has involved a lot of research. I am rapidly learning and taking on new challenges each day; it keeps the job interesting.

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

I love that this industry offers me the opportunity to be creative – I feel that to be an effective farmer, you have to be willing to try new things and being creative is a great way to do this. The industry is very exciting at the moment with so many new advances in technology and new practices. It’s always motivating to see other people working on new ways to benefit the industry.

At times the work can be solitary and more so in the cold winter months – I find a couple of weeks respite helps to crank up the enthusiasm for the rest of the year. One of the best parts about the industry is going to see your product that you have taken so much time to perfect, be sold at the market or in a supermarket. At this point you realise that you have done your job well knowing that someone wants to spend their money on a vegetable you supplied.

In your opinion, what areas of research are important to the vegetable industry and your business?

Research into new software for drones and robotics could lead to greater efficiency. This could be used to predict the yield of crops and map out the growth rates, then by comparing new and old data you could see what variables influence each crop, such as types of fertiliser or weather events.

Greater market research into export opportunities could also prove valuable to the industry. Free trade will likely push this forward and hopefully the viability of export to provide competitively priced produce will ensure continual growth for farmers.

"One of the best parts about the industry is going to see your product that you have taken so much time to perfect, be sold at the market or in a supermarket. At this point you realise that you have done your job well knowing that someone wants to spend their money on a vegetable you supplied."

Where do you see opportunities for growth in the Australian vegetable industry?

Export presents excellent potential for growth in the industry and Australian farmers have the opportunity to take advantage of this. Better storage practices will mean fresher produce can be shipped further than before. Businesses becoming more efficient and increasing yields will make export a more appealing option as they become more competitive in a global market. Australia has a reputation for providing great quality fresh food and emerging middle class markets overseas are demanding higher grade and safer produce.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is really only my third year back full-time farming, and already so much has changed in quite a short time. I hope to be expanding my knowledge and hopefully take on some passionate young people to work with. As markets change I’d like to explore some new products and hopefully see some of the niche vegetables become more staple products for consumers. All I hope is that it continues to be challenging and exciting!

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

Learning farming skills from a young age would be a start to getting more people in the industry. For instance, having partnerships with schools and universities that show students how to put the skills they learn into practice.

It would be good to see a farm placement program that gives interested young people the ability to work on properties and gain knowledge that can’t always be replicated in a classroom. This would give exposure to jobs and experience that otherwise wouldn’t be available due to a lack of on-the-job training resources for adults.

Have you got anything else to add that may be of interest to readers, and the wider vegetable industry?

This year, I attended Hort Connections for the first time. This conference brings together the largest number of growers, supply chain members, industry service providers and government stakeholders. The event goes for three days and includes a massive trade show and an endless array of talks by industry leaders and passionate people.

It was one of the most exciting events I have been to, and I got to meet so many like-minded people. It was great for networking and getting an insight into what others in the industry are achieving. I made some great contacts and learnt a huge amount in just a couple of days. I met amazing people in the industry and got to ask them questions that I otherwise wouldn’t get the opportunity to ask. It was a very rewarding experience and I look forward to attending again – I would highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to attend.

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!