Re­sults of bold de­ci­sion stack up

A North-West fam­ily took a risk in rapidly grow­ing its veg­etable business and is now reap­ing re­wards, in­clud­ing an ex­port award. Karolin MacGre­gor re­ports

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS -

Afo­cus on pro­duc­ing top-qual­ity veg­eta­bles and de­vel­op­ing over­seas mar­kets has made Pre­mium Fresh one of the state’s top ex­porters.

The op­er­a­tion re­cently won the Tas­ma­nian re­gional ex­porter of the year award for the sec­ond time after first claim­ing the gong in 2011.

While the business has grown sig­nif­i­cantly since it was es­tab­lished in 2000, it is still a fam­ily op­er­a­tion and is headed up by broth­ers Jim, Mike and Rick Ertler.

The fam­ily was farm­ing on the Forth­side prop­erty where the op­er­a­tion’s fac­tory is now when they saw a value-adding op­por­tu­nity.

At the time they were also run­ning a small veg­etable-pro­cess­ing business in Devon­port, which they sold in 2005.

In the early days the fam­ily’s main crop was car­rots and they soon moved into onions.

“We saw a gap in the mar­ket, we got good feed­back for our prod­ucts. We were putting them into Syd­ney, par­tic­u­larly car­rots,” Mike said.

“So there was a gap and we filled it pretty quickly and ex­panded in 2001, so we stuck our necks out pretty well.”

The ex­pan­sion saw them go from grow­ing about 33ha a of car­rots to 142ha in the space of one year. Nowa­days the com­pany grows about 200ha a year.

“The op­por­tu­nity came be­cause of where Tas­ma­nia fits in, pro­duc­ing veg­eta­bles in that sum­mer pe­riod,” Jim said.

“We’re re­li­able as ver­sus the main­land where they can have 10 days in a row over 40C. Our main­land cus­tomers recog­nised that, so for those veg­eta­bles, for sum­mer pro­duc­tion, Tas­ma­nia is a good place to be.”

Car­rots are the main crop, but the com­pany now also grows about 150ha of onions, leeks, shal­lots and red onions along with broc­coli, beet­root, Brus­sels sprouts, swedes and turnips. More re­cently they also grow as­para­gus.

“We’ve been keen on try­ing to ex­tend out sea­son be­cause we’ve got a lot of in­fra­struc­ture tied up for a short pe­riod of time and man­age­ment re­sources as well,” Mike said.

“So we’re try­ing to push our sea­son and our pro­duc­tion in­come flow out as far as we can.”

The business em­ploys about 60 full­time staff but the num­ber of em­ploy­ees can go up to 240 in the peak sea­son.

While it is early days the broth­ers have high hopes for their as­para­gus crops.

“We think it go­ing to be a bit like the cher­ries of the veg­etable world,” Mike said. “It’s a niche com­mod­ity and it’s at the higher end.”

At present there are only a few small as­para­gus grow­ers in the state.

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