For Tim Vandenberg and his family, their approach to growing citrus begins at the end.The end of the supply chain – with the customer and what they want – and, the end of their farming career. This outlook has underpinned the strategy driving growth and innovation at his family’s citrus orchard at Gol Gol, NSW. “I think when you go into something it is just as important to have an exit strategy,” Tim said. “Most people come up with great ideas, they think ‘it is great to do this,’ but they don’t have an exit strategy or a succession plan for what they might want to do. I’ve thought that process through.” The process has been more than a thought. Tim and wife Melissa (and sons Charlie 13, Harvy 10 and Patrick 7) have a 15-year plan. The family wants to increase the scale of the business to a point where it’s enticing to a large corporate farming organization or investor. This would also mean the business would be large enough to sustain the employment of the next generation, if they wanted to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Since purchasing a 36 hectare planted property four years ago, the Vandenbergs have expanded to 101ha. Tim wants to drive future growth, to maximise business performance and ensure the best return on investment for machinery and staff. “We envisage, from a machinery point of view, that point would be around 300-400 acres (121-162ha) (per tractor and sprayer),” Tim said. “We envisage, to run citrus to its maximum potential, that there would be one person working to every 100- 120 acres (40-48ha).” The ongoing drought and land development moratoriums in the horticulture industry could put a temporary handbrake on development plans, but Tim believes macroeconomic drivers such as population growth and uncertainty around food chains will bode well for citrus into the future. This methodical, big-picture approach to business is evident right across the Vandenbergs’ operation and stems from Tim’s career in the corporate sector. A certified Irrigation Australia agronomist, Tim worked with large scale agribusiness with experience in roles from agronomy to management. As the fourth generation involved in horticulture, Tim has a Bachelor of Agricultural Science from the University of Adelaide and a Master of Business Administration (MBA). The latter qualification was something Tim wanted to compliment his on-farm knowledge and skills before beginning his dream career as a farmer. He thought the citrus industry was the best way he could capitalize on his education and experience. “The reason I went into citrus is it’s a lot more challenging than some crops, not as challenging as table grapes, but it has many challenges and you are ultimately rewarded for your effort directly in pack-outs and the quality of the fruit,” he said. “In my field, and what I learnt at university, I find that very exciting from a day-to-day aspect. It’s the challenge and it is always different and ongoing.” This reward for effort and ability to segregate product in the marketplace is central to the Vandenbergs’ business. The majority of their fruit is sent to local packing shed Simfresh which controls most of the marketing. Tim likes to spread his product between the US, Asia and domestic sales, with 80-90 per cent of fruit destined for premium export markets. The orchard has been set-up to ensure citrus supply for 10 months of the year. Wine grapes, at about 20 per cent of the business, provide income during the summer. “From a business aspect it gives us good cashflow so we can remain in business and with high water prices that’s a major issue,” Tim said. “With a lot of the new plantings we target around early-season to mid-season navels because we currently have some later fruit, late Lanes and even some seedless Valencias. We are also pushing into the Afourer market and hopefully have a few lemons as well.” “It helps from a management function because they ultimately come in two to-three weeks apart. “From a labour supply issue we can continue to keep people employed through that period. As soon as we pick the tree, the same people will prune the tree, depending on the weather obviously, and that ultimately keeps a crew of people employed for an extended period.” Running with a “lean staffing structure” Tim and another employee are full time, while labour hire is used during busy periods. Looking ahead, the Vandenbergs will work with their packing shed as part of its sustained fruit supply and has plans to expand into Blood Oranges. They have implemented the Citrus Australia requirements for exporting product to Korea, China and Thailand (the KCT Program) and will keep a close-eye on what happens with US markets. “They dictate what happens,” Tim said. “Blood Oranges are a nice bit of fruit that presents well and has nice pigmentation inside. It is what the consumer wants and they are a little different to the Washington.” Back on-farm, water for irrigation has become the largest business cost due to ongoing drought. In mid-March, they received 17mm rain. In the five months before that only 3mm had fallen. “The water challenge is very difficult,” Tim said. “We prepared ourselves earlier looking at history, looking at what’s happened in other drought periods and we also try to keep up-to-speed with what is happening with the water. “I’m the secretary of the South West Water Users Group and I try to make sure I’m all over what is happening in the markets and the potential releases and the percentages we will get by state. “I try to have the best read that I can.” Two-year-old trees represent about 50 per cent of the farm, so Tim expects big yield growth in the next five years. The Vandenbergs’ foliar program includes an application every three weeks, year-round, depending on weather. The type of nutrient applied varies with the stage of growth and time of year, with many kelps included in the SJB AG-NUTRI Product sprays. Foliar application rates for younger trees include 300-500 litres/ha and the nutrient spray is applied at about 8km/hour with a 1.5 per cent solution. For older trees, it’s about 2000 litres/ha for a 2 per cent nutrient solution depending on the type of season. These are spread at 6-8km/hour. Insecticides are sprayed at a slower speed. A twin-row interlinked sprayer allows Tim and his employees to cover the farm quickly. While the Vandenberg family has been able to achieve a lot in four years, there’s more to come. Tim said this rapid growth and development was possible thanks to the support of his family, especially his wife Melissa.