Bec Grant started at the bottom and worked her way to the top, transferring her management skills from viticulture to citrus.
Southern Cross Farms
Bec started her citrus journey at Southern Cross farms in 2017, working on a property near Nangiloc.
After 3 months Bec was promoted as Operations Manager and after 15 months she became the Business Manager for Sunmar Orchards.
Bec now manages two properties for Southern Cross Farms – Hillston Citrus at Hillston, in NSW’s Riverina; and Sunmar Orchards in the Sunraysia district.
This is Bec’s third harvest with Sunmar and she has been working at Hillston Citrus since August last year.
At Sunmar, Bec manages three farms, roughly 130 hectares of citrus with varieties of navels, mandarins, tangos, tangelos and cara caras.
At Hillston she manages roughly 315 hectares with similar varieties.
Business Manager Bec Grant at Hilston Citrus, managed by Southern Cross Farms.
Before transitioning to citrus, Bec worked for five years – first as an Operations Supervisor then Farm Manager – for Macquarie Ag, holding the role when they were bought out by Duxton Vineyards.
She managed two large-scale properties – one of 935 hectares and the other 800ha.
But Bec’s background in agriculture extends beyond just citrus and grapes.
“I left school; I always liked the farm life. My parents owned a hobby farm and that’s sort of where I got started,” she said.
Bec started working on beef and cattle/broadacre properties around Dubbo and Gulargambone before moving into table grapes in the NT. Her two daughters were born in Alice Springs.
Slowly from there, Bec ‘climatised’ and made her way back to NSW, staying in the table grape industry for 6 years before moving on to wine grapes, and now into citrus.
“I started more or less at the bottom again once changing over to the citrus industry and worked my way back up into management,” she said.
Women in Agriculture
Bec says agriculture can be a maledominated field and women in management positions, particularly in agriculture, are rare but she would like to see more women step up.
“You’ve just got to be cut out to do it and I think being in the farming industry for 20 years or more now, I still feel you’ve always got to prove yourself.
“That’s how I’ve been brought up and to get the respect of everyone you’ve just got to work hard at it!”
Irrigation and drainage management
Southern Cross Farms have moved to a MAIT drip irrigation system.
The majority of the farms Bec manages have transferred to the MAIT drip irrigation system. Also converting some low-lying sprinkler blocks to drip.
“The reason why we converted those three blocks to drip from low line sprinkler was that the land in that area was undulating.”
With the low line sprinklers Bec said water was prone to sitting in lower and flatter areas of land creating pockets of water.
Bec says the MAIT irrigation system is an easier program to use and less complicated to teach to employers and so far has worked well.
Bec has also been working with management and contractors focussing on fixing some of the drainage issues where the majority of her Afourer mandarins grow.
“We spent probably the last 12-18 months looking at installing more drainage over there to remove any excess water that may be sitting in the water table.
“The trees are starting to come back now; it’s starting to have a flush so that’s a good sign but it won’t be for another two or three years for those trees to start to produce fruit again.”
Bec says border closures caused some inflexibility around accessing seasonal workers last year but they still managed to get their fruit picked.
“We were fortunate to have pickers on the same side of the border that were picking so we were lucky,” she said.
“It certainly slowed the picking down but it never stopped it because we just kept going but I think we’re going to have probably similar challenges this year.”
Further stress was added in the pandemic trying to keep pickers around throughout the duration of the harvest but Bec says that’s the ‘beauty of the citrus industry’.
“Citrus is a bit like wine grape harvest. It starts off slow, then boom you’re straight into it for the next four or five months and then it slows down again towards the end of the season.”
Southern Cross Farms put in place a number of policies and procedures to combat Covid-19 last year such as daily temperature checks at the gate, hand washing facilities, sanitizer, social distancing and hygiene practices.
Bec is moving into the new season with the same precautions to the pandemic as last year but says it’s harder to implement Covid-19 rules now that people are relaxing with less restrictions.
“With Covid still around we still need to be careful. We still need to do temperature checks because everyone’s out and travelling now, so we don’t know who’s who, where they’ve been.
“We all have to take those precautions and we just do what we’ve been doing for the last season”.