A major Victorian vegetable and herb grower says that adding an organic range to its products is complementing its current business, and will potentially open export opportunities in the future.
Nearly 12 months ago, Butler Market Gardens (BMG) partnered with Murray Valley Organics (MVO), and CEO Rick Butler says this approach has allowed them to enter the market quickly as a team with minimal capital investment by both companies.
"Adam Farley, owner of MVO and I have known each other for close to 20 years," he said. "Recently, Adam and I started talking about an organic partnership where each of us could play a role, focusing on our strengths. MVO to grow organic vegetables and herbs and BMG to market, pack and distribute them. I see that one of the most important things about this partnership that this type of expansion aligns with one of our key business values of sustainable best practice."
BMG became a Certified Organic Packer, aligned with grow partner, and has added a certified organic packing area to its Heatherton facility, south-east of Melbourne. The new features include dedicated washing lines and ice machines, and the company is also developing its own organic branding for use within the domestic market.
"Organic sales currently represent 4 per cent of BMG’s revenue," Mr Butler said. "Some of our organic production is being sold conventional while we develop branding and markets for our products. Our organic production capacity has recently increased with irrigation infrastructure investment. Organic Certification was relatively straight forward with MVO taking a very proactive approach to this year in advance. Adam hadn’t grown some of the products we trialled during conversion in early 2018 but that led to better outcomes in 2019. Irrigation was an issue early on but MVO was able to overcome this with a recent investment into a travelling irrigator."
He added that water is a challenge with its price in the region much higher than initial forecasting expected, but BMG is working around it by minimising summer production and maximising winter cropping.
"Summer irrigation will come from using drip tape a more efficient way of watering in the warmer months," Mr Butler said. "This year we have had success with winter Broccoli, Chinese Broccoli, Dill, Coriander and Parsley. Over the summer months it's Zucchini, and for this upcoming summer we will add butternut pumpkins for the first time."
Founded in 1912, BMG has complete control of its supply chain allowing it to grow, harvest, pack, market and distribute its products nationally - and while it currently only supplies domestic markets, some organics customers are exporting its products. Mr Butler says he is happy with the current arrangements but will always look to gain business efficiency by adding value where possible.
MVO is a 40-hectare certified organic farm situated in Wood Wood, Victoria, and both companies see an increasing demand for organic produce overseas, and in Australia. BMG CEO, Mr Butler is currently leading the business through a period of modernisation and change, while contributing to the fresh produce industry where he can. He currently holds several leadership and representative positions.
"BMG is the proud Environmental Sponsor of the annual Hort Connections industry award, with sustainability a key focus of our business moving forward," he said. "MVO and BMG are both organically certified to grow and pack over 20 different vegetable and herb varieties."