Posted 03 August 2011, by Sandra Godwin, Weekly Times Now, weeklytimesnow.com.au
FOURTH-generation horticulturist Nathan Free has set out to carve his own niche as a producer of organic vegetables.
With family members already growing stonefruit and wine grapes on properties south of Lake Boga, Nathan decided his energy should be focused in a different direction.
And, rather than choosing a single crop, he has opted for a range of vegetables.
After completing a Certificate 2 in agriculture while at school, Nathan undertook a Certificate 3 course in horticulture.
He also completed short courses in biologically sustainable farming systems in Victoria and Queensland and travelled to the US to study.
Nathan’s plan was to identify gaps in the market and ensure demand existed instead of planting a paddock of pumpkins and hoping someone would buy them.
“That’s pretty well been done,” he said.
“I’m mainly looking to see if there’s a hole in the market at a certain time or a certain variety or size that we can come in on to build a brand that people can trust … at a sustainable price bracket.”
Nathan’s first venture was rockmelons, which his family had grown in the past.
This was followed by onion seed and jalapeno chillies.
Over summer, Nathan also grew garlic, squash, capsicums, zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplant and lebanese cucumber, which were sold through a marketing company, Wattle Organics.
The idea was to grow 10 organic lines in smaller volumes over a longer harvest season.
“I’m trying to be consistent … so the consumer can go out and buy zucchinis from the retailers for five months of the year,” he said.
The land Nathan is using is regarded as organic in conversion and due to reach full organic status in the next two years.
Nathan said he had embraced organics as a more sustainable way of producing a product with more flavour that was “healthier for the consumer”.
For this year’s garlic, he chose a 4ha block that had grown a green manure crop of legume peas, vetch and oats which was baled to put into compost.
The stubble was incorporated in the soil to increase the level of organic matter.
After deep ripping to aerate the soil, Nathan applied about 30 tonnes of compost to the 4ha block, then added 200kg/ha of phosphorous and nitrogen-rich granular guano – otherwise known as bat or bird faeces.
Using a three-row machine he had built, Nathan sowed this year’s garlic crop at 625kg a hectare. It will be cultivated and hand-weeded between now and summer.
Nathan said the pink garlic would be harvested mid-November and the white garlic in mid-December.
Once harvested the bulbs will be bundled in the paddock, left for a few weeks, topped and tailed in the shed before going into bins where they will be fan-dried to finish curing.
Nathan said he was hoping for a 16-tonne crop, after using most of last year’s bulbs to sow this year’s crop.
“We only sold 200 to 300kg last year,” he said.
Because of the small quantity, the garlic was successfully test-marketed in Melbourne, Brisbane and Singapore either loose or packed into 125g punnets.
This year’s crop will be hand-harvested but Nathan said he had designed the block to suit mechanical harvesting after setting his sights on a $30,000 machine from France.
“There’s been quite a big capital investment to start off in garlic,” he said.
“Most of the crops that I grew last year are paying for this block to go in, so I didn’t run at much of a profit.”
In the next five years, Nathan said he hoped to build up recognition for his brand, Alkeria Organics, and a good reputation for organic vegetable production using best practice growing techniques.
He also would like to persuade other farmers to work with him, on his land or theirs, to produce organic vegetables for sale through wholesale markets and supermarkets.
Also in On Farm
- AT A GLANCE
- Who: Nathan Free
- What: Vegetables
- Where: Lake Boga
- Why: Organic opportunities
- Report: SANDRA GODWIN