Toowoomba’s Alister Ferguson was inducted into the Australian Organic Hall of Fame
The winners of two of the most prestigious honours in the Australian organic industry have been unveiled at the 2022 Australian Organic Industry Awards.
Australian Organic Limited Chairman, Martin Meek, said it was a privilege to select the inductee into the AOL Hall of Fame and the recipient of the Chairman’s Award.
“This year’s honourees, Alister Ferguson and Kane Busch, were chosen because one is aspirational and the other is inspirational, and both speak to the risk and the love of organics,” Mr Meek said.
“Alister built a phenomenal business and made a successful exit, leaving an impressive legacy.
“He was a determined early adopter and by sheer strength of will drove Arcadian Organic & Natural Meat Co. to be one of the largest organic businesses in Australia.
“Kane comes from a multi-generational family farming business, Busch Organics, that he has helped take to the next level, supplying to mainstream retailers, produce markets and processors. At a time when the average age of farmers is continuing to climb to the high 60s, it is inspirational to see the next generation step up and continue to drive agribusiness.”
Chairman’s Award winner: Kane Busch, Busch Organics, East Gippsland
Young Victorian grower Kane Busch, whose family grows broccoli, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, and parsnip at Lindenow on the fertile Mitchell River floodplain, said he’s honoured to be the recipient of the Chairman’s Award.
“As producers we don’t chase awards but it’s nice to be recognised for the job that we do in feeding people,” Mr Busch said.
Kane paid tribute to his grandfather Lex, who was the driving force behind the farm’s push to become certified organic in 2000, and said he wanted to inspire others as Lex had done.
“My hope is that the excitement of growing organics and increased returns will encourage younger people to get involved in the industry,” he said.
“Agriculture and horticulture are exciting spaces to be in. You’re not just sitting in a tractor working paddocks all day. With the specialised nature of growing and packing there are high tech, fast-paced roles available, and we need to get young people and new faces into the industry.”
2022 has been a tough growing year for Busch Organics, a family operation also involving Kane’s brothers Matt and Damien, as well as his father Chris. Despite this, a highlight was the local community effort that defeated a proposed mineral sands mine being built on the plateau above their farm.
“For the last seven years we’ve been campaigning against the mine proposal for a site above the Mitchell River Valley, which would pose a great risk to our organic status,” he said.
“AOL were fantastic in assisting us to gather support, and the Minister decided that the risks were too great if the mine went ahead.”
Another victory for Busch Organics was their resilience in a very wet year, when they adapted their growing practices to turn off some big volumes and keep everyone supplied.
With labour costs increasing, Busch Organics is investing in more mechanisation. For nearly eight years the farm has employed seasonal workers from Vanuatu, ensuring they are well trained with skills they can take home and apply to their community plots in the Pacific.
“Our family has been farming here for 101 years and we were organic before there was a word for it, so we are quite resilient,” Kane said.
“We’ve seen growth in the processing and fresh market business off the back of customers looking for a healthy alternative for their families, and there’s room for organics to grow in the future.
“It’s very exciting to be a part of that. Our generation is well established but it’s the generation to come that’s the objective, so as long as we can build a business with organic farming practices, that will be secure.”
AOL Hall of Fame inductee: Alister Ferguson, Toowoomba
As a student at Orange Agricultural College in the 1990s, Alister Ferguson wrote his PhD thesis about organic beef, and went on to help build one of the world’s biggest and most successful organic businesses, Arcadian Organic & Natural Meat Co.
He sold his share in the company at the end of 2021 and has since developed his business interests in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba, which include The Paddock Butchery, The Plate Restaurant, Bone Idol Brewery and The Shed Coffee Drive Thru.
“It’s a great honour to be recognised by AOL and a nice way to finish my current period in the industry. I remember at the first Organic Expo in Sydney there was a lot of gum leaves and hessian, but it was an exciting period and a lot of fledgling businesses from those days have done really well,” Mr Ferguson said.
A bonus for Arcadian was its captive supply chain of 120 producers and 180,000 cattle, which enabled the management team to spot opportunities in the market and work closely with suppliers to bring them to the customer.
“Arcadian built a lot of pretty large programs and really good brands – beef, lamb, free-range pork – that I still buy for our butcher shop today, and we supplied Woolworths, Coles, Costco and Wholefoods in the USA, to name a few,” he said.
“Fundamentally, all the messages when I started in business are as relevant today; that you need continuity of supply 12 months of the year, you pay premiums to encourage supply, but at the same time maintain the quality.
“When we first started it was just organic, then 100 per cent grassfed organic, followed by GAP, the Global Animal Partnership for animal welfare food labelling. Now it’s carbon neutral, so organic as a certified program enables the producer to leverage a lot of other claims as well.”
He remembers the company’s first litmus test, when the Global Financial Crisis struck Australia in 2008.
“I thought oh, here we go – will they commit and keep buying?” he said.
“But my business actually grew through that period. People who had converted to buying organic maintained it, and that was a great vote of confidence in the industry, to have committed consumers.
“As the market matures, what you tend to see is that if parents have bought organic food for their children, then they become your next consumers. It’s happened in Europe, the US and Australia, that those children will keep buying a portion of the shopping basket as organic.
“It’s got a great future. Everything that’s got the organic industry to where it is today won’t go away.”
Photos of the Industry Award winners can be viewed at this link.
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More about Australian Organic Limited (AOL)
Australian Organic Limited (AOL) is the peak industry body engaging with government and industry to promote the commercial and social interests of those who are certified and protect the integrity of the certified industry against fraud and misleading organics. AOL has been at the foundation of organics since 1987 and is identified by the most recognised mark in Australia, the Australian Certified Organic Bud trademark. This trademark signals the highest of integrity and is recognised by 63 per cent of Australian consumers.