Thirty-two-year-old Sean Croft left his career as a diesel mechanic to help his parents run one of the country’s largest certified organic carrot farms in northern Victoria. He tells us how the business and lifestyle of organic farming is both a labour and a love.
Why do we farm organically? For me, personally, I want to live on an organic farm. I want my kids to run through paddocks that aren’t sprayed. I want them to be able to pick a carrot out of the ground and not worry about chemical withholding periods. A withholding period is the minimum period of time that must pass between the application of an agricultural chemical and when the sprayed crop can be harvested and/or sold.
I want our staff to work on a safe farm and not worry about the damage of pesticide exposure when in five or so years a pesticide is found to be more toxic than we know now. I want to grow food the way it’s supposed to be and the way it’s supposed to taste, rather than engineered a certain way.
The name of our farm is Arahura, the same name as the farm my granddad grew up on in New Zealand. It means ‘path to discover’, which makes it apt for our business now.
I grew up on a family farm but it was sold when I was still a kid and we lived in town for a while. When I left home, I ran a successful diesel mechanic business in Geelong for eight years until Mum and Dad bought a farm and invited me to work on it. It originally produced dried fruit. They spoke to an organic wholesaler and asked him what vegetables he needed, which is how we’ve ended up growing mostly carrots. We also grow certified organic beetroot and onions.
We make planned and calculated decisions about what and how much we grow. We sell to wholesalers and supermarkets in most of Australia’s capital cities and we’ve just started exporting to Singapore. We’re focusing on export markets a lot more. Exporting is a challenge because there are no set supply channels. When you farm organically you’re really pioneering the way a bit yourself – you can’t necessarily follow in other footsteps or learn from others’ mistakes because the industry is not as established and as large as the conventional industry.
The conventional market is full of growers fighting for market share. In organics you have more control over your own destiny; you can go for it yourself. But this also makes it tricky to cost projects because you have no data on which to base a decision; you can’t just look at your opposition. Everyone’s talking about export demand – but how do you meet it? Who do you talk to? We sell to an agent that only deals in exports.
Our nearest town is Swan Hill, 35 kilometres away. It’s one of the largest stone fruit growing regions in Australia and therefore attracts a good source of labour by way of backpackers. Our farm wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for backpackers – they make up the majority of our staff of 50. You can’t get Aussies to do the jobs they do. Weeding is relentless work, so we look after them to make sure they stay and have a good experience.
I’ll be on the farm for life. My wife and I have three kids – the oldest is six. We moved from Geelong because, really, why would you raise your kids in the city when you can raise them on an organic farm?
Having said that, my lifestyle is not ideal. The Arahura Farms company has five farms, so I’m busier than ever but I wouldn’t do anything else – I love it. I love the organic industry; it’s evolving really fast. It’s quite exciting.
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