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TAS Country : September 16th 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010 Tasmanian Country 7 News GREEN FIELDS: Dennis Davis, winner of Harvest Moon's Excellence in Agriculture Award, at his Dendra Gardens business. Picture: KAROLIN MacGREGOR Sowing seeds of success Vegetable grower Dennis Davis has turned his green thumb into an award-winning business, reports Karolin MacGregor DENNIS Davis says it was a big surprise to be named Harvest Moon's Excellence in Agriculture award winner at the company's annual supplier dinner. About 130 people attended the dinner where five grower awards, including the $5000 Excellence in Agriculture, were awarded. Mr Davis, who has a clerical work background in the shipping industry, said he had always had an interest in growing things. When the time came for a career change about 15 years ago, vegetable production seemed like a good choice. ''It was something I'd always been interested in. . . I used to grow lettuces at a block at Devonport for a second income,'' Mr Davis said. ''I guess you could say we went for a land change instead of a seachange.'' Together with wife Sandra, he now runs his Dendra Gardens business on a 18ha block at Cuprona. The couple grows 17 different product lines -- including spring onions, parsley, Asian vegetables and Dutch carrots -- and supplies vegetables year round. ''We needed to retain our workforce, so to do that we've had to expand the range of things we grow to make sure they've got enough to keep them going all year,'' he said. ''It is a very labour-intensive business, and our workforce is a very important part of what we do. The standard of their work is what makes all the difference.'' To ensure a consistent supply of product, Mr Davis said they had to stagger their plantings and could do between 400-500 plantings a year. It has been a steep learning curve at times, but Mr Davis said not coming from an agricultural background had been an advantage in some ways. ''When I'm talking to farmers I'm always aware of how much I still have to learn. ''But when I first started I didn't have any preconceived ideas about what would and wouldn't work, so if I saw an opportunity I just got in and did it,'' Mr Davis said. He said maintaining consistent quality through all of Dendra Gardens' products was vital. ''I think that's one of the most important things you always have to keep in mind is who you're producing for and what your consumers actually want,'' he said. Most of the produce is field-grown, but some simple greenhouses have been built to keep production going during winter. The greenhouse area also provides a better working environment for staff during wet weather. But what started out as plans for 1000sq m of undercover greenhouse growing area has expanded to about 11,000sq m. ''There's no doubt that it is harder to grow vegetables in Tasmania, but our climate means the vegetables we grow here are much better quality than anything you can get on the mainland,'' he said. To maximise the use of all available growing area, crops are grown in a system similar to the average home garden where rows of different vegetables are interspersed. All are harvested by hand and though this does significantly increase the labour needed to run the operation, Mr Davis said it also ensured they were in total control of product quality. All the vegetables are also washed and packed on the property. Mr Davis employs about 26 staff most of the year, but this can increase to about 40 during the summer period. As well as the farm at Cuprona, he also leases another block of land at Sulphur Creek, which allows the company to grow some vegetables right through winter because of its proximity to the north coast. Juggling 17 different product lines and hundreds of plantings on 18ha of land does create some challenges. But Mr Davis said advice he had received from friend John Hill, from Hills Transplants, during his early days had been invaluable. ''John gave me a lot of valuable advice and that made a big difference,'' he said. ''It has been hard and there were a few times I thought we wouldn't make it, but I'm pretty stubborn I suppose and it's something I really enjoy.'' Most of the fertilisers used in the operation are organically certified, and Mr Davis said he avoided using sprays as much as possible. Harvest Moon awards also went to W&L Langmaid, from Kindred, who received the carrot award; M&K Barunah, from Westbury, who received the potato and onion awards; R&P Francombe, from Elliot, who received the swede award; and G&G Scott, who received the award for broccoli.
September 9th 2010
September 23rd 2010