Investment in business management and technology underpins Gill Farms growth
31 August 2021
Gill Farms started in 2005 with just 14 hectares of almonds but adapting to industry and keeping an open mind has turned this family farm into a 1000 hectare business.
Born in India, Billa Gill farmed wheat, rice and maize before migrating to the Middle East where he worked in construction.
Unhappy there, he made the leap to New Zealand where he continued working in agriculture and invested in a cattle farm.
In 2005, Billa decided to make another leap but this time to Red Cliffs, buying himself a 14-hectare almond farm.
But when drought hit, his business started going backwards and it wasn’t until 2011 when he brought his first piece of land in Iraak that things started to turn around.
Finance and Operations manager, and son of Billa Gill, Hardeep Singh said the farm grew ‘little bit by little bit’ until they reached to where they are today.
“Every scenario has an opportunity so you should always be looking out to see what opportunities there is in any circumstance,” Hardeep said.
Now, Gill Farms comprises approximately 1000 thousand hectares of land with 30 permanent employees and they’re currently on the path of transitioning their family farm into a well-structured family business.
“We talk about industry but a lot of growers don’t spend time on the business side of things as well so we’re putting a bit of emphasis on there as well.”
“Its about sharing a bit of the work load and making sure that were not being left behind in terms of what is good future business management,” Hardeep said.
Gill Farms has roughly 200 hectares of citrus planted with another 65 going in the next two years.
They plant a combination of varieties including Lane Late Navels, Washington Navels and a little bit of Lengs, and Navelinas.
They are also planning on having a crack at the new Ruby GS variety.
“We really don’t want a one hit wonder variety, you make good money for two years and then you’re pulling it out another few years, so its gotta be solid,” Hardeep said.
Hardeep also explained the varieties were selected to keep pickers working throughout the season.
“The aim was that when the pickers rocked up to do the Navelinas in May they stayed until we finished our Valencias in October as well so there’s no opportunity for the pickers to go to another farm for a short period and then we could potentially lose them,” he said.
At the moment Gill Farms use a MAIT irrigation system, Hardeep said they’re always looking into investing into irrigation and fertigation infrastructure technology, adapting and changing to what best suits their farm so year in and year out they can improve their systems.
“We try to get all the aspects on screen so we can see the flows and the pressures at every valve which is out there rather than going around and cleaning every filter. That can save three hours a day.”
Gill Farms is also excited about some future technology, specifically new developments in automatic sprayers that could potentially save time and money.
“New ideas, new technology, new growing practices, new chemicals and the most efficient way to do whatever you need to do to achieve the right outcomes.”
Gill Farms is also keeping a close eye on nutrition and crop manipulation.
They’re cautious how the industry might be changing in the future and how they can prepare for those changes.
“I think you have to be ready and up to date to new thought processes around nutrition and all the crop manipulation type, so you have to be really up to date with that.
“Especially, I think the new thing that they will have to get ready for is with the pest management, there’s a lot of the chemistry being removed from other markets, so you really have to get up to speed with that,” Hardeep said.
Despite these modern changes, Gill Farms is still very much a family farm.
Hardeep said ‘dad’s still the boss’ and they’re always seeking input from their employees and keeping an open mind to changes.
“I think we’re very lucky in this area and there’s a lot of good practices around which a lot of other industries and countries will be looking at, so yeah these guys are doing a pretty good job.”