In the spotlight : Don Murray, Australian Organic Annual Awards Gold Farmer of the Year

Don Murray, Nature's HavenWho…are you?

My name is Don Murray and I am the founder and General Manager of Nature’s Haven; producer of quality, great tasting Certified Organic vegetables. I built up the business from scratch over the last 14 years to now be one of the largest Organic producers in Australia.  And, of course, I’m the 2015 Australian Organic Farmer of the Year!

What…do you do?

Nature’s Haven offers a wide variety of vegetables; our produce lineup includes zucchini, pumpkin, sweetcorn, tomato, onions and other produce we are currently trialling. We supply to the domestic wholesale and retail market, as well as indirectly to the international market including Asia although we are currently negotiating direct export opportunities.  I oversee both production regions, but am also actively involved in farm operations on a day to day basis, travelling between our NSW and QLD locations regularly to trouble shoot and fill staff shortages.  I am also head of a dynamic research, development and innovation team which is one my passions, but also a necessity due to the huge growth in organics as there is a lack of reliable and practical know how in the organic farming system. Being one of the largest certified organic vegetable growers in Australia, the responsibility falls to us to be at the forefront of the industry in this and many other areas.

Where…are you located?

We have two locations; 4 farms in Coleambally, in the Southern Riverina District of NSW and 4 farms in Dimbulah, Far North Queensland which is where I am based along with our Head Office.  Being in two locations enables us to supply our sought after produce year round to consumers, something we were asked to do for many years before it became a reality.

When…did you become certified?

Our NSW location has been under Organic management since 2002 and fully certified since 2003.  Our FNQ location has been certified since 2009.  Both locations are also fully certified with Freshcare and our key staff are HACCP trained.

Why…did you become certified?

It was always our intention to be certified with Australia’s leading certification body when we began in 2002. We believe in our produce and want consumers to recognise it as high quality, grown and certified to the highest standards available.

What is your organic story?

I have a passion for agriculture, particularly food production. I achieved my dream through obtaining tertiary qualifications in agriculture which gave me an excellent grounding and experience for the business we have now developed. I gained extensive experience with a wide range of vegetable crops, and subsequently as a Regional Agronomist. Through various career opportunities I enhanced my leadership and natural pioneering skills which gave me the grounding to realise my ultimate goal – growing organic vegetables. Nature’s Haven came about because of a love and passion for growing plants without unnecessary chemicals. In 1999, my wife Elaine and I purchased our first property in Coleambally, NSW and began trials and the certification process.  As I had been employed with Coleambally Irrigation in many guises, but most recently as the Irrigation Distribution Manager I was very familiar with the high quality irrigation water and soils of the district and applied this knowledge to my farming techniques. Over the years, as our business grew and room for crops ran out we purchased another three adjacent farms.  Elaine began working full time for the business in 2006, bringing with her extensive industry experience and knowledge.  In 2009 our son Brendan joined the business, enabling us to expand our operation to Dimbulah, Far North Queensland and Elaine and I relocated permanently, leaving Brendan to run the NSW operation while we concentrated on setting up our northern operation.  This expansion finally gave our customers what they’d been asking for; our high quality produce all year round.  During the last 5 years, due to the integrity of our farming techniques and business model, as well as Brendan’s skills in Sales and Marketing, our business has experienced massive growth, necessitating the employment of key staff to help develop our business and continue expanding our Research, Development and Innovation projects.

Nature’s Haven’s philosophy is that if you provide healthy soils, adequate water, good nutrition and a balanced ecosystem, plants will be in an environment where they can look after themselves. We do not use artificial fertilisers and chemicals, and also limit nitrogen use and maintain a natural balance of insects and beneficial organisms above and below ground. This organic agriculture is great not only for crops but also for the environment. We also take all necessary steps to protect the environment. This includes minimising run-off, contamination, erosion or leaching. In addition, properties belonging to Nature’s Haven conserve areas of natural vegetation benefiting both the native and protected fauna and flora.

What do you love most about your business?

I love being considered a leader in my field, where I have the opportunity to meet with people who share my values and be able to develop ideas and technologies.

And….any good stories to share?

I’m passionate about playing around with vegetables, and over 20 years have developed a variety of pumpkin called Amber Sweet™ which is registered with Plant Breeder Rights.  It’s proving popular in the domestic marketplace, but we’re particularly excited about the export market as it seems to be sought after by Asian buyers due to its sweeter flesh and soft peel.  One of our RD&I team is currently in Hong Kong at the Lohas Vegetarian Food Expo developing business relationships and promoting this product so it’s quite exhilarating seeing the produce grow from its infancy to the possibility of export to Asia.

As we are constantly being asked where to source our product, we decided to develop a retail brand called LongLegs Certified Organic to make it easier for consumers to recognise Nature’s Haven product in the marketplace.  We have been developing the brand over the last couple of years and are thrilled to have LongLegs Certified Organic Zucchini currently sitting on Coles supermarket shelves.  This has been a journey for us, culminating in a quality brand discerning customers can now look for at their local supermarket.  Hopefully this brand recognition will continue to grow in leaps and bounds, with people asking for LongLegs Certified Organic produce at every store they shop at!Farmer-of-the-Year-GOLD