Green Thumbs of Steel

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-By Kristy Attard

About 26 years ago two of the Jacometti brothers sat down to talk. Michael was a chef feeling dissatisfied with his job wanting to try his hand at farming vegetables. His brother Eric, who was studying to be an accountant at high school decided to join Michael on the risky venture, buying cheap equipment and leasing some land to start literally from the ground up in Werribee. “It was a really tough gig; we nearly went bust a few times, but we persevered…” reflects Eric.

A decade down the track in 1988, after much trial and error, they were joined by their brother Theo. None of the Jacometti brothers had any farming background and neither of them expected that they would one day be the owners of one of the largest vegetable seedling and flowering plant suppliers in Victoria. Today the business grows a staggering 300 million vegetable seedlings from its nurseries in Lara, supplying growers Australia wide.

Thriving Success

Maybe you have never heard of Boomaroo Nurseries before now but here’s food for thought: “A high percentage of what you see in the chain stores – lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, caulies, leeks, onions and a number of other vegetables – originate here.” It may also be a surprise that at Boomaroo the process from planting seeds through to dispatch is a state of the art, fully automated system. Many international visitors and university groups visit the nursery to get a glimpse of the setup and technology. Different machines plant, water, fertilise, spray and transport the seedlings throughout the nursery – up to 30,000 plants can be moved at a time by the lifting gantry system. It’s been a huge progression, speeding up the entire process considerably. “A job that took two people eight hours to do in our nursery, we actually got a machine to do it in 45 minutes, and where we used 100 litres of water, with turnkey application methods we only use 35,” Mr Jacometti explains. “By getting machines to apply chemicals smarter and more effectively we could cut down on the amount of chemicals that we needed and increase the efficiency of the chemicals, so less insects, less pests to worry about.”

Besides vegetable seedlings, Boomaroo Nurseries grows a wide variety plants in an independent department called Greenlife. Over the past five years, 15 million dollars has been reinvested into expanding both the Vegetable and Greenlife departments of the business. Greenlife was formerly known as Potted Colour. Potted Colour remains a brand within the department, covering gorgeous ornamental flowering plants like Impatiens, Pansies and Snapdragons.

Buyers have a terrific variety of plants available to them wholesale from the downright bizarre carnivorous Pitcher plants that lure unsuspecting insects to their deaths, to exotic Orchids, a popular choice with gardeners. Cyclamens are the primary flowering crop at Boomaroo which is one of the largest cyclamen producers in Australia. Eric credits his brother Michael with seeing the opportunity for a Cyclamen product and says “… our reputation in the industry for Cyclamen product is second to none.”

The quality of the seeds Boomaroo sources from 15 suppliers is of major importance. “If we can select a seed that’s 92 per cent germination over a 90 per cent germination, that has a huge impact on the bottom line.” All seeds are tested for quality against a high standard that ensures growers get the very best plants. The seedlings begin the first few weeks inside glasshouses, where conditions can be controlled, and they are eventually moved outdoors for up to eight weeks to cope with environmental disturbances like rain and wind. This adjustment period is referred to as ‘hardening off’ where the cuticle on the leaves gradually thickens to reduce moisture loss.

Right from the beginning the Jacometti brothers’ philosophy has been that the success of the company is that of the community. Over the years the company has made significant contributions to the close-knit community of Lara and Geelong, doing everything from feeding the homeless to being active with the St Laurence Park Retirement Village and providing mentorship to troubled kids. “It’s really important to the culture of the business and we involve our employees in that,” says Mr Jacometti “They get a huge amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from the fact that we’re a company that contributes our time, our efforts and also some resources to it.”

Boomaroo Nurseries is a proud sponsor of the Lara Food and Wine Festival and was part of the team instrumental in getting it all started. This not for profit community event showcases the best in local produce. The festival is a lot of fun for the whole community with food stalls, competitions and musical performances throughout the day. “It’s very satisfying to be active with the community,” comments Mr Jacometti. Lara is the hometown of ‘Getaway’ presenter Catriona Rowntree who was the festival MC last year to approximately 8000 attendees.

Although the Jacometti brothers are understandably pleased with making a contribution, they prefer to be discreet about it, believing that charity shouldn’t have to be seen to be done. But it’s no secret that what they do is recognised and well appreciated. At the 2010 Bollies, a local award night in Geelong, Boomaroo Nurseries won Bollie of the Year for being community-minded. In the recent past, Boomaroo Nurseries received a prestigious award nomination for the equipment the company developed to apply Confidor pesticide to lettuce crops to kill the lettuce aphid.

Around six years ago the lettuce aphid made its way into Australia having already devastated crops throughout America and Europe. The lettuce aphid is a prolific breeder and gets right into the heart of the lettuce, making it especially difficult to treat. Mr Jacometti explains Boomaroo’s response to the threat: “We were part of a grower committee which got together before the pest made it to our shores and developed a strategy which would keep it under control. We are very happy to say that we developed some equipment which applied the chemical very, very accurately which was a world first… I think we’ve had certainly less than .0001 per cent of infestation in lettuce crops because of the chemical and application methods that we were able to apply to those crops.”

“We’ve got a passion for our business; we love what we do and that’s not just all the three brothers, but our entire staff base.” Boomaroo has over 100 employees. The work is seasonal, and the number of employees rises to 120 during the summer. Mr Jacometti wants workers to benefit from their time with the company, leaving with more qualifications and skills than they had when they started. “Every person in this business is trained every year with something.” Staff are keen on seeing the business do well and work as a part of a team. Boomaroo Nurseries employs four Occupational Health and Safety officers to remove or reduce hazards and deal with any safety incidents should they arise. Workplace incidents at Boomaroo are low by industry standards and Mr Jacometti stresses, “Every person is involved in safety on this site.” Boomaroo is closely involved with ‘WorkSafe’ to maintain its strong commitment to health and safety. Company CEO Tony Ford believes the results of having a safe workplace speaks for itself.

New Growth

“I think going forward our philosophy is going to be commit and create.” Working with the Water Authorities and Australian government, Boomaroo Nurseries is proactive about significantly reducing its water usage. Half of the water usage at Boomaroo in the near future will be recycled. “100 mega litres of water will be recycled on this site within the next 12 months minimum – we use about 200 [total].”

Boomaroo’s reputation for being a world class vegetable seedling supplier has been earned over many years. With a customer base fluctuating between 300 to 400, as some of it is seasonal business, Mr Jacometti acknowledges how hard the drought hit its growers a few years back. Fortunately the industry has bounced back and part of the five year plan for the company is moving into new Australian markets.

There are already some exciting opportunities for the company to make a positive impact overseas. The redevelopment of the Chinese cotton industry is one area which can benefit greatly from Boomaroo Nurseries’ farming experience and technical capabilities. China has already shown interest in the company’s IT products. Mr Jacometti wouldn’t rule out the possibility of exports and of Boomaroo having an international presence. However this would never be at the expense of Australian markets which he keenly supports. “I am fearlessly Australian and I love the vegetable industry; it is everything I’ve done my whole life and I hate the thought of anyone taking over that industry…”

From small beginnings as a humble market garden in Werribee, Boomaroo Nurseries has grown into something the Jacometti brothers can be proud of. “In business, we’ve had a bit of a mantra that we’ve adopted over a long time and that’s quality, service and reliability. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but that’s something we’ve applied ourselves to for a long time and the way that we’re approaching business in the future is to go out there and look for it. If it’s not there, let’s create it.” The Jacometti brothers are keen to break new ground and grow together with the community of Lara. “Just because it’s not done now doesn’t mean it’s not going to be done in the future. Let’s commit and create.”

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, 5:33 PM AEDT