Samantha Lizars is a 23-year-old Quality Supervisor at Bulmer Farms in Lindenow, Victoria. We profiled her in the March/April 2018 edition of Vegetables Australia magazine.

Fast facts

Name: Samantha Lizars
Location: Lindenow, VIC
Works: Bulmer Farms
Grows: Baby spinach, baby leaf varieties, baby broccoli, iceberg and cos lettuce

How did you first become involved in the vegetable industry?

After completing my Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) in 2011, I secured an agri-food traineeship through the East Gippsland Food Cluster. The traineeship gave me the opportunity to work within three local businesses, two of which were vegetable farms.

What does your role as Quality Supervisor at Bulmer Farms involve, and what are your responsibilities?

As Quality Supervisor in the pack house, I am responsible for ensuring all produce and processes undertaken meet our customer’s requirements as well as meeting regulatory, industry and international standards.

You received a Victorian Government Young Farmers Scholarship in December 2017. Why did you apply for the scholarship, and how will it benefit your future in the vegetable industry?

The Young Farmers Scholarship will give me the opportunity to develop my career pathway, which was previously limited by a lack of formal qualifications.

As part of my ‘Upskill’ component of the scholarship, I will undertake the Diploma of Food Safety Quality Assurance Management. On completion, I will be able to implement the world’s best practices and processes in food safety and quality. I will have developed the knowledge to be able to action the food safety needs and improvement opportunities that are specific to our business. It will allow me the capability, confidence and training to grow from a supervisor position into front line management.

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

I love being surrounded by fantastic fresh food. I think quality assurance and providence are very important. Australia has a great reputation for producing world-class, safe, quality fresh food. Being able to validate that process is something I am passionate about. I get to work with a great group of people who keep me motivated in my role.

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

One challenge that is within the industry is dealing with people who struggle with constant evolution and change. The second challenge is outside the industry and that is the disconnect between the producer and the consumer. Many consumers have a limited understanding of the processes undertaken to produce the quality fresh food that they eat day in and day out.

"I believe young people are not fully aware of how many wonderful job opportunities there are in the horticulture industry. The horticulture industry is just like any other industry; it requires people of all different skill sets."

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

My current Pack House Manager, who was my mentor during my traineeship. Both my senior managers and our resident agronomist are fantastic to work with and offer lots of support and encouragement.

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

Growing, harvest and post-harvest technology to increase production efficiencies within the industry; extending shelf life and quality of produce through plant breeding and technology; continued research into pests and diseases which have an impact on the appearance and overall quality of produce that ultimately impact the bottom line of the business; and understanding the necessary practices to reduce the risk of microbiological outbreaks, as these can be detrimental to human health and therefore the industry.

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

The purchase of equipment to improve our processes on-farm, such as the Sormac wash line and drying tunnel (first to implement in Australia) and a state-of-the-art Ramsey Highlander harvester.

We work closely with seed companies and breeders to trial new varieties specific to Australian conditions. We have adopted an online farm management program, allowing for real-time information to be instantly available.

We are currently in the process of assessing predictive weather stations and soil moisture probes for our farm to improve crop management.

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

Export and value-adding products, as well as the promotion of healthier diets, which encourages people to eat more fruit and vegetables to combat the obesity and diabetes crisis within Australia.

Also, the development of nutraceuticals, which are products derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. Using surplus and aesthetically imperfect vegetables to create nutrient-dense products will assist in reducing food waste, developing longer shelf life products and achieving healthier alternatives to snack and convenience foods.

It revolves around using food waste such as hail-damaged product that is not visually appealing to buyers, extracting the nutritional value and using it in products such as multi-vitamins, baby formulas and snack foods.

It is a growth opportunity for Australia’s fruit and vegetable industry to be involved in, as well as being able to use these products for export.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I plan on continuing to progress my career within the Bulmer Farms business. I would like to move from a supervisor level position to a management role where I am actively participating in the front line management of Bulmer Farms.

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

I believe young people are not fully aware of how many wonderful job opportunities there are in the horticulture industry. The horticulture industry is just like any other industry; it requires people of all different skill sets, from higher level management to hands-on roles.

However, this is not the general public’s perception of the industry. High schools in horticulture regions should be working with students and encouraging them to explore pathways within the horticulture industry.

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: Lisa Hayman