Breaking New Ground

Boomaroo Nurseries

Innovative technologies and computerised systems are the real green thumbs at Boomaroo Nurseries today, which is an extraordinarily high tech operation. “You know what, it is extraordinary and we’ve got some really good concepts for the next generation of those machines but our business has just been going gangbusters,” says proud co-owner Eric Jacometti who happens to be one of the original founders. “We’ve spent about 5 million dollars this year on capital works, which is going to absolutely propel us into the future as far as the way that we can produce product effectively and efficiently.”

Budding Start

Planting crops from transplants (seedlings) instead of seeds gives growers a head start. Mr Jacometti has personally experienced the benefits that transplanting has over direct seed planting. “When we started growing in Werribee South and we were direct seeding lettuce, Crisphead lettuce, we were getting around about 600 or 700 units per acre yield. And when we went to transplants the yield went up to somewhere towards the 2000 mark,” he explains.

When the Jacometti brothers first started farming vegetables back in the late 70s, they had a property called Boolaroo. In one of the local Aboriginal dialects, Boolaroo means ‘place of many flies.’ “Anybody who knows Werribee South probably thinks that’s quite amusing and so did we,” recalls Mr Jacometti. “We went to register the name Boolaroo Nurseries and couldn’t believe it there was already a Boolaroo Nurseries operating; I think it was out of the Dandenongs from somewhere around the 1920s. We couldn’t get the name, so we just changed a letter.”

Today Boomaroo Nurseries is a well known name in the vegetable industry, providing growers around the country with an extensive range of quality commercial seedlings and wholesale greenlife products. The Lamattina Group headed by Russell, his wife Tina and their family have been long standing customers of Boomaroo Nurseries. “Russ and I go back a long way,” says Mr Jacometti. Russell was a fellow vegetable grower in Werribee South supplying Woolworths, and the two met while doing night deliveries to the Woolworths distribution centre.

At the time, Russell was starting to grow a few transplants and was encountering some quality issues with his supplier. The Jacomettis, who were already growing quite a few plants out of Lara by that stage, shared some of their knowledge with Russell regarding how to handle the transplants and how to get them into the ground effectively. They showed him the superior quality of their product compared to the other entity that was supplying him. Russell switched his business over to Boomaroo Nurseries and it was the start of a long and prosperous relationship. The Lamattina Group now grows over 1 million tonnes of fresh produce annually.

Promising Growth

Boomaroo Nurseries has long been renowned for being at the forefront of new technological developments and innovations within the industry. Back in the early days of the business, switching to overhead irrigation really made a significant difference; productivity multiplied by a staggering 300 per cent. This year, one key project involves building new sheds and installing state of the art seeding equipment. “It’s certainly going to be the best that I’ve seen in any vegetable nursery in the world,” comments Mr Jacometti. This world first development will have a huge impact on the way trays are seeded and filled with the incredible 350 million plants Boomaroo Nurseries is aiming to produce this year. “It’s just going to be amazing.”

To better service customer needs, Boomaroo Nurseries now has a finishing and distribution centre (seedling holding pad) open in Toowoomba, Queensland. “We’ve got a number of customers up there now and the future is looking very good for us up in that area. It’s been a great experience, it really has.”

Refrigerated truckloads of stock are delivered from the nursery to the centre ready to be distributed at the convenience of the growers. “We can’t do that from way down here in Lara, so it allows us to distribute more efficiently,” explains CEO Tony Ford. During the recent flooding, product was held at the centre until the growers were ready to start planting again. “They’re fantastic people and they’ve been through hell up there over the last couple of years as we know. They’ve had droughts and they’ve had flooding rains; it really is Australia, isn’t it? And those guys are so resilient it’s amazing.”

‘Vasili’s Garden,’ a cult hit gardening program, hosted by the charismatic Vasili Kanidiadis featured a segment on Boomaroo Nurseries last year. “He is fantastic, that guy!” exclaims Mr Jacometti, who took viewers on a fascinating site tour. “We love him. We love him, he is entertaining and a lot of fun… anything where we can get our staff involved, I think is really positive for us.” An engaging workplace culture is the key to developing an effective workforce and, “anything that we can do to lift the culture and the profile of the business, we’ll do it of course.”

Following the implementation of a quit smoking program and a couple of trial run days, as of 1st January this year Boomaroo Nurseries became a smoke free workplace. “Now we have got some smokers and we will continue to have some smokers but at the end of the day we will have some who cut back and give up,” reasons Mr Ford. “And to us that’s very important because it’s all about the health and wellbeing of all our people.” Employees were given plenty of notice in the lead up to the transition and were offered many different strategies to help them quit if they wished. “Some people were interested in taking up the option of hypnosis, many of them took up the patches and chewing gum and we’ve certainly seen a lot less smokers,” reports Mr Jacometti who agrees with Mr Ford that supporting employees to quit is an ongoing initiative of the company. “We‘re committed to making sure it’s a successful outcome for everybody.”

Flourishing Business

Chemical usage on fresh produce is a hot media topic, and it seems many consumers are now unsure if vegetables are healthy to eat after all. According to Mr Jacometti, “our foods are getting safer and safer.” He advises consumers to have more faith in the abilities of the growers and the entire supply chain to minimise the amount of chemicals they are ingesting. The direction that the industry as a whole is heading is away from the use of pesticides and herbicides. Boomaroo Nurseries is looking at integrated pest management, chemical application methods and the efficiency of new chemicals being released. How the chemicals work is another carefully considered factor. “Every chemical is registered and tested before it’s allowed for use.”

In regards to other environmental issues, Boomaroo Nurseries is on target for 50 per cent water reuse this year. While growers certainly have more than enough water now due to heavy rainfall earlier on in the year, they have been struggling to deal with very low market prices. “You know, I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing well in excess of 30 years,” reflects Mr Jacometti. “I know thousands of farmers that I’ve met over the years and it’s a tough gig. Farmers are such optimists. They can go from being a comfortable landholder that farms to a pauper. Making sure that they look after themselves is really important.”

Giving people encouragement and support when times are tough is all in a day’s work. However, Mr Jacometti admits that sometimes it gets to the point where you have to ask somebody if it is time to get out of the industry. “It’s just a hard fact of life,” and walking away from a failing family business is especially difficult. “Sometimes they keep farming when it’s a marginal business and that leads to bankruptcy in some cases.”

Being a part of the Australian fresh produce industry (which is unpredictable and disheartening at times for growers) is challenging but Mr Jacometti says, “I still have huge optimism for this industry.” He is passionate about the future direction of Boomaroo Nurseries. “We’re proud to be a part of the vegetable growing community and I hope that we’re here to stay and can help to improve the effectiveness of the industry in general.”

Ultimately, the biggest customers for Boomaroo products are the chain stores, which are very price conscious. Boomaroo Nurseries is consulting with supply chain partners now more than ever to see how efficiency at getting products to the marketplace can be further improved. If there is a new concept for an existing product, it may take up to 12 months to get it to the shelf and that is a long, costly process. However, by working closely with supply chain partners that product can get to the shelf between three and four months and those savings can then be passed on to the consumer.

Boomaroo Nurseries has embraced innovation, aiming to double its current output by 2018. With green thumbs of steel, Boomaroo Nurseries is one Australian grown business flourishing towards a bright future.

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July 20, 2018, 8:55 AM AEST