Through the 2017 East Gippsland Vegetable Innovation Days, a levy-funded project exposed growers including Coolibah Herbs' Satish Chand to industry-leading innovations, R&D and networking events in the heart of one of Australia's key salad production regions - Lindenow in East Gippsland, Victoria.

Fast facts

Name: Satish Chand
Location: Pearcedale, VIC
Works: Coolibah Herbs
Grows: Lettuce, spinach, radicchio and other salad greens

Satish Chand says organic production at one of Australia’s most-recognisable vegetable brands brings many unique challenges, but the invaluable networking opportunities and knowledge gained at the 2017 East Gippsland Vegetable Innovation Days have gone some way towards overcoming these hurdles.

As General Manager Farms at Coolibah Herbs — the self-labelled “masters of mesclun” — Satish says the Pearcedale-based business on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is widely known in wholesale and retail markets across Australia.

The grower, supplier and distributor of washed salad greens, mixed leaves and culinary herbs has evolved from a market garden enterprise in the 1980s to supply leading companies in the food sector industries, at home and abroad.

One of the challenges Satish faces to keep Coolibah ahead of the pack is dealing with frequent customer and end-user enquiries about its organic production.

But the event at Bulmer Farms in May 2017 helped Satish address many of the customer enquiries in person, while also acquiring excellent research and development insights via the demonstration sites hosted by the top 10 seed companies in Australia.

The East Gippsland Vegetable Innovation Days (EGVID) were hosted by agronomist Stuart Grigg and Bulmer Farms’ Managing Director Andrew Bulmer in Lindenow, Victoria. It was a major event for the East Gippsland Food Cluster (VG15047) as part of the National Vegetable Extension Network, a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

Sowing the networking seed

Promoted on social media with its Facebook page, the two-day EGVID provided updates on the Hort Innovation strategic levy investment, Robot for Intelligent Perception and Precision Application (RIPPA), as well as an industry dinner and innovative developments to increase sustainability in the industry and improve producers’ bottom lines.

“Attending really helped the business to identify the best standard practice,” Satish says.

“A lot of seed companies have provided the support in supplying the best varieties so that the business can thrive. The seed companies were there to support us through high-yielding and disease-resistance varieties. This has helped us by minimising the cost of production overall at farming levels.”

As a result of attending the event, Satish said Coolibah Herbs has enhanced its “solid” relationship with industry stakeholders in Australia and export markets.

"We, as a business, need to be sustainable all along the way and have been lucky to have support of the industry, which gives us valuable insight into where the market growth is and how best we can grow with it."

The hands-on interaction at EGVID also complemented his participation in the Growing Leaders program, which focuses on personal, business and industry change and management.

A strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund, Growing Leaders (VG15030) is the only national leadership and development program tailored for the vegetable industry. Its content has exposed Satish to handling conflict; delivering effective communication; holding efficient meetings; high-performance team building; managing change; and negotiating the media.

“This program has given us even more insight into the leadership and management quality at all levels in the industry,” Satish says.

“I sent another staff member this year for the same program and will continue in the future for more training.”

Ongoing industry participation

Like-minded support, both technical and constructive, has proven to be a cornerstone that keeps Satish and Coolibah Herbs thriving and strategically focused on future pathways.

“Most importantly, we are customer-focused and supply the best and freshest produce. We are the leaders in organic salad production and this is the key strength of the business. We have been involved in innovation and technology all the way and will continue to attend most industry events,” Satish says.

“We, as a business, need to be sustainable all along the way and have been lucky to have support of the industry, which gives us invaluable insight into where the market growth is and how best we can grow with it.”

Regional capacity building to grow vegetable businesses – Victoria Gippsland (East Gippsland Food Cluster) has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

This grower profile first appeared in Grower Success Stories, a levy-funded booklet published by AUSVEG to promote real results from levy investment, and was featured in the AUSVEG Weekly Update published 11 December 2018. If you’d like to subscribe to receive AUSVEG publications, use our online subscription form!

Photography credit: Release Images