Shining a light on careers in Australian horticulture
AUSVEG has launched the Grow Your Career in Horticulture video series, which highlights the diverse range of careers in the Australian horticulture industry. AUSVEG Communications Officer Sophie Burge reports.
The Grow Your Career in Horticulture series features video interviews with employees from nut, fruit and vegetable businesses across Australia to gain an understanding of those vital ‘behind-the-scenes’ roles in the industry. These videos show the daily tasks, responsibilities, and pathways of current employees on Australian farms.
AUSVEG National Public Affairs Manager Tyson Cattle said that the series is designed to highlight the technical and skilled opportunities that are available on fruit and vegetable farms across Australia.
“The horticulture sector is a large, developed and diverse industry that employs a wide range of skilled people. While much of the media attention is focused on harvest labour within the sector, it is often forgotten that the industry requires a range of skillsets to manage and operate their farm business,” Mr Cattle said.
“The horticulture industry has many opportunities for workers to upskill and access on the job training further their career in horticulture. While there are many harvesting opportunities on the Harvest Trail, there is also a range of other essential roles to be found on farm and production line.”
Many of the roles highlighted in the video series are in the highest demand in businesses across the horticulture sector and align with the approved 31 occupations under the Horticulture Industry Labour Agreement – supporting growers to sponsor skilled and semi-skilled workers from overseas to fill these critical occupations.
“Growers’ preference is always to employ locals first where possible, when they have the right skills and attitude,” Mr Cattle said.
“These videos aim to showcase the many varied career opportunities for local workers in the exciting $15 billion Australian horticulture industry to entice people to give the industry a go.
“Many people we interviewed for these videos did not intend on a career in horticulture, but discovered a passion for it after working on the farm. They have each come from various backgrounds and landed in horticulture through different avenues by transferring key skills from seemingly unrelated courses and past careers to start successful careers in horticulture.
“A job in horticulture can be the start of a lifelong, satisfying career with plenty of opportunities for upward growth. Putting food on the table for millions of families in Australia and abroad makes it a worthwhile and fulfilling career.”
Name: Jordan Kleesh
Location: Production Assistant/Sales at Red Gem Potatoes
As a Production Assistant at Red Gem Potatoes, Jordan Kleesh works primarily in the processing facility in Nar Nar Goon, Victoria. Jordan oversees the product movement throughout the day, and works with various teams in the facility coordinating the processes and market orders.
He helps to load and unload trucks, check the packaging line and pick orders – while ensuring proper food handling, quality and safety standards are met.
Red Gem grows and supplies brushed and washed varieties of potatoes to major retailers around Australia. The business is based in Nar Nar Goon, but it also has farms operating in Hillston in the Riverina region of New South Wales and Mount Gambier in South Australia. Trials of sweetpotato and onions are also underway through joint venture crops in Gippsland.
Red Gem grows more than 15 potato and onion varieties annually on 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of land around Australia.
AUSVEG caught up with Jordan for the ‘Grow Your Career in Horticulture’ series.
Jordan, can you please tell us about your role at Red Gem Potatoes and what it involves?
At Red Gem, we grow brown onions and several potato varieties including Kipfler, Nicola, Mozart, Royal Blue and Crème Royale. In addition, we manage many farms to help support our volumes to our customers, which are very important to this business – from our biggest customers such as Coles & Hello Fresh to smaller ones located locally and interstate.
I work on the packing side of the business. After we receive the freshly harvested potatoes into our packhouse, we prepare and package them, so they are ready to be sent out to our customers quite quickly – they are in and out on the same day if necessary.
My day-to-day duties include loading and unloading trucks, picking orders, running the line and machines, as well as other general factory and forklift duties.
In our packing shed, we have two different potato lines: the brush line and the wash line.
The waste or defective potatoes are rejected for other markets – utilising waste and having less of it is very imported to the business. The washed side is a little more involved, as the potatoes must go through a washing plant to be washed before they come through the lines to get packaged. It’s a simple process but at the same time, there’s a lot behind it that you’ve got to do to get it right.
We are very lucky to have been the first company to utilise x-ray vision technology to help us with sizing and grading our brushed potatoes. With this, we have achieved a quality no one else can do in the industry!
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day typically starts with a production team meeting early in the morning to outline and organise what the goal is to achieve for that day. This involves determining what our orders are for that day and the day after and making sure we have got enough product coming in for us to package to then send out again.
From there, we set up the lines where we prepare the pallets and do whatever else is needed to unload the potatoes from the truck.
Throughout the day once the team arrives, we begin the process of packaging, which involves things like keeping track of timelines, moving pallets around, moving people around and making sure the lines are operating correctly and are not overflowing.
My day also involves looking at quality assurance, where I check the product to ensure it meets the customer’s specifications and requirements. To do this, I pick up a bag off the production line and tip it out before I hold or cut up potatoes to ensure they do not have any internal defects and weigh correctly.
Can you please tell us about your journey into horticulture?
When I was 16, I began working at Red Gem as a casual employee where I would fold crates and help with packing and other general factory duties. After a year, I left to try something else.
While I was at school, I was studying sports science and then I came back to work at Red Gem for a year and a half where I did inventory, quality assurance and more general factory duties and light forklift duties. From there, I left to do my carpentry apprenticeship that I had finished just as the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The COVID situation impacted my carpentry career, but luckily enough – as a result from my prior work experiences at Red Gem – I was able to find work again with the team doing casual forklift driving. What began as casual work ended up being full-time work again, and I found the opportunity to progress through the business to where I am today.
What are some common misconceptions about careers in horticulture?
There is a whole lot more to horticulture and a lot of people don’t realise that until they actually start working in it.
About four months into working at Red Gem again, I had the opportunity to visit the Hillston farm in New South Wales, where I saw and learnt the entire process of planting. This included the overall groundwork that prepares a crop before planting, such as soil conditioning.
It was witnessing the planting process and the factory side of things – which are not as simple as people would think – that ignited my interest in horticulture.
The whole process is not just as simple as putting a potato into a bag. We have got so much to organise such as inventory, quality control, the factory side of things, logistics and forklifts – plus the various office roles for the business side of things.
I’ve learnt the inventory side, the quality control side, and now sales. If you’re prepared to learn, there are numerous opportunities to grow your career in horticulture.
Another common misconception about working in the industry is that there is only seasonal work, which is not the case. There are plenty of packing sheds that operate all year round because the potatoes come in from numerous different places around Australia and not every farm does harvest at the same time. The potato industry is always growing and harvesting, and there’s always work.
"I’ve learnt the inventory side, the quality control side, and now sales. If you’re prepared to learn, there are numerous opportunities to grow your career in horticulture."
Why do you do what you do?
I love my job as every day is different. One day I could be working on the factory floor or in sales or be up at the farm for a week helping that team, to then come back to the packing shed. If you’ve got the dedication to the industry, I find it tends to give back to you because employers notice and reward effort.
In my situation, Red Gem has provided the opportunity for me to move forward in the business which is fantastic.
From my experience, it’s never too late to get into horticulture. I’m 25 and although I was in and out of the industry at the start, I’m glad I returned.
It’s also a good feeling to see the product you’re producing end up on somebody else’s plate.
At the end of the day, I get to watch the process from start to finish. When you go into the shop, there’s no better feeling than when you look at a bag or the tag, and you see that tag has gone through your hands before landing in the local shopping centre.
Overall, working for a company with a great heritage gives me the comfort and belief that we can achieve great things every day.
Find out more
For more information about the Grow Your Career in Horticulture series, please visit ausveg.com.au/grow-your-career.
The Grow Your Career in Horticulture series is funded by the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment through the Harvest Trail Services Industry Collaboration Trial.
This ‘Young grower profile’ first appeared in the leading magazine for the Australian potato industry, Potatoes Australia. If you’d like to subscribe to receive a new edition of Potatoes Australia in your mailbox every three months, use our online subscription form!
Photography credit: Sophie Burge