Putting Down Roots

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-By Jaime McKee

Simpson Farms Pty Ltd is an Australian owned and operated family business based in Childers, Queensland. The story of Simpson Farms begins back in 1969, when husband and wife team Ron and Fay Simpson started up a tomato and sugar cane operation near Bundaberg. By the late 1980s, the couple had expanded their operation and founded Goodwood Plantation, which has since grown to become Australia’s largest producing avocado orchard. Presently managed by the next generation – Ron and Fay’s four daughters and their husbands – Simpson Farms is the country’s largest producer of fresh pack avocados, and the property now encompasses 1100 hectares of orchard.

Producing over 3 million trays of fresh product at full maturity, Simpson Farms is also Australia’s largest producer of processed avocado products, producing over 450t annually.

Despite its growth, the company remains a family business through and through. The four Simpson daughters and their husbands are actively involved in the management of the business, each bringing with them a unique background on which to draw. The collective knowledge base at Simpson Farms runs deep, with over 100 years combined experience and several relevant degrees within the family including Horticultural Science, Engineering, Marketing and Business Management.

Director John Walsh recently described how it goes even deeper than that. “Having the land,” says Mr Walsh, “is the most important base for our business… Simpson Farms is a farming family and values its connection to the land and the trees and its place in the farming community.” He describes the company as having “strong ties to the rural industry and the community around it,” and this is clearly evident in the mindful way Simpson Farms operates. Harvesting at Simpson Farms is done by hand, with cherry pickers and a ground crew, and only when strict maturity standards have been met. The company keeps its processing facilities close to the orchards themselves, to minimise cost and impact on the environment. And it focuses on safety and quality at every step in the chain.

Simpson Farms focuses its efforts on the planting, growing, harvesting and packing of Hass, Shepard, Wurtz and Reed Avocados, as well as Calypso Mangoes. Once picked, the fruit is returned to either of the company’s two accredited packing facilities. The Goodwood packing operation boasts a 4500 square metre facility, featuring the latest computerised grading equipment, in-line sticker application and a sealed loading dock, which provides access to the 360 square metre cold room. Another 216 square metres of cold room space is used for pre-cooling and bin storage. The Goodwood shed also operates two flow wrap machines to prepare pre-pack avocados for the retail market. As Simpson Farms’ primary fresh pack shed, the Goodwood facility is Australia’s leading avocado packing facility. A similarly-equipped operation is housed at Lynwood, and offers a 4000 square metre facility with over 700 square metres of cold room space and a 250 pallet space freezer.

From there, the fruit is graded into premium, standard and processing classes, with the vast majority of fruit making its way into the premium line. The premium and standard class fruit is either pattern packed or bulk packed, while the processing fruit is value added into avocado pulp and guacamole in Simpson Farms’ processing facility. These products are then sold to members of the food service industry, food wholesalers, and restaurants.

As any company working in the food sector can attest, safety and quality are top priorities. At Simpson Farms, this is no exception. In all of its operations, the company maintains a high standard of quality by adhering to strict HACCP guidelines and food grade processes. Simpson Farms is accredited to SQF 2000 level 3, and both its packing facilities are ICA-03 and ICA-19 accredited. As a national distributor (the company maintains a frozen supply network with product storage space in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, allowing it to deliver to nearly anywhere in Australia), Simpson Farms employs strict treatment regimes to ensure compliance with interstate protocols whilst providing a safe product for the national market.

Simpson Farms employs 40 permanent staff members with, Mr Walsh says, “up to another 220 casuals during our peak season.” This blend of long-term seasoned staff and short-term team members leads to an “enjoyable and diverse workplace,” one where people are able to learn from one another and continually gain new skills. The company operates a “fully integrated training and work place health and safety and quality system” to ensure that all employees gain a comprehensive understanding of the full production process. “The fact that we are a vertically integrated business makes us unique,” says Mr Walsh. “We control all aspects of the business – production, harvesting, packing, marketing and processing. This along with our size makes us the largest producer of both freshpack and processed avocado products within Australia. Being a family run company with large scale and a depth of experience within different fields sets us apart from other farming families and corporate farms – bringing the best from both sectors.”

In addition to enjoying a vibrant workplace culture, Simpson Farms also benefits from long term relationships with both its suppliers and its customers. As Mr Walsh puts it, “We have suppliers and customers that work closely with us to improve and develop the chain required to get the products to the marketplace.” The company takes customer needs into account when developing new products, an element Mr Walsh describes as “integral in all aspects of the business.” This drive for innovation and keen understanding of the marketplace has kept Simpson Farms at the leading edge of technology, and has led to the creation of unique products, such as the company’s Avocado Syrup, designed for use in desserts and milkshakes (and let me just say in case you’re skeptical, an avocado milkshake is truly a beautiful thing!).

If there is a message Simpson Farms would like to convey, it is that being a market leader in its field has not made it complacent. The company is committed to delivering the highest quality in its products, and is continually evolving and improving to meet that goal. As John Walsh says, “Simpson Farms will continue to develop its avocado production base for both freshmarket and processed products. Simpson Farms constantly aims to diversify into new markets and products… and will continue to work hard to meet customer demands and provide security for its staff, suppliers and customers for the future.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:14 AM AEDT