Success in business comes in many forms, the success at Hansen Orchards in Tasmania is not just a positive line in the balance sheet but also a motivated and passionate team of people working towards growing good quality fruit that can be enjoyed by people around the globe.
Howard Hansen, Managing Director of Hansen Orchards, received the inaugural 2016 Exporter of the Year Award earlier this year. But the award reflects the entire business’s work towards more exports.
“Everyone was chuffed with the Exporter of the Year Award, the people in the packing shed, the people in the orchard, us in the office,” says Hansen Orchards Marketing Manager Baden Ribbon, who manages export sales.
Good business starts with good people
Howard is a respected member of the Tasmanian and Australian apple, pear and cherry industries and is well known for surrounding himself with great people and supporting them. Baden is one of them.
Unlike many people who work in the industry, Baden has no family connection to fruit growing. In fact, he studied accounting at university and during that time he started working in administration for Tasmanian apple growers Top-Qual. “When I graduated, I stayed at Top-Qual and took an interest in working in sales and marketing instead of accounting,” he says.
Baden worked there for eight years, becoming familiar with the industry and getting to know Howard. Baden and his wife then moved to Melbourne where he worked for Freshmax for two years.
When they became homesick for Tasmania four years ago, Baden contacted Howard, the family moved back to Tassie, and he started his role at Hansen Orchards.
The journey to export success
As Marketing Manager, Baden’s role is to market and sell every piece of fruit that’s grown at Hansen Orchards, with help from Grant Newbon and Howard. This includes working with their domestic customers, such as Coles and Woolworths; Australian wholesalers; and overseas buyers. “Our export program now covers cherries and apples and I’m currently investing a lot of time in this side of the business,” Baden explains.
“We coordinate the majority of our exports ourselves and a big percentage of this is directly to overseas retailers. We also have an ongoing relationship with Turners & Growers for part of the crop we don’t export ourselves. Our export volumes are growing rapidly, to the point that it’s becoming a bit hard to manage by myself at times,” Baden says.
When asked where he’s developed the skills to export Baden says he’s still learning.
“I’ve built my knowledge bit by bit, year by year and have a lot more to learn. But I must admit, it’s far less daunting than I thought it was going to be when I first came into the role,” he says. “Hansen Orchards had some experience in exports and at the beginning I would ask around.”
Baden cites the MICoR (Manual of Importing Country Requirements) website as being a “super useful tool” for growers interested in exporting plants and plant products. It outlines the requirements that need to be met when exporting to individual countries, such as: import permits; phytosanitary certificates; additional declarations and/or treatments; and protocols.
The freight forwarder, Link Logistics, who put Baden onto the MICoR website, is used by Hansen Orchards to export both apples and cherries to a range of destinations.
“I really value the assistance of our freight forwarder Link Logistics,” says Baden. “They deal with local freight and international shipping costs and we don’t have to worry about anything. They complete all the required documents and look after the phytosanitary and certification requirements.”
Small, but growing exports
Hansen Orchards currently export five to 10 per cent of the volume of apples they pack to countries including China, Thailand, Dubai and, more recently, Japan.
“It’s only due to Baden’s great work that we’ve developed these markets, which really are quite niche,” Howard explains. “The reality is it’s still difficult to be competitive out of Australia because of our labour costs and we recognise the need to be targeting higher value areas of the market to really make exports work.”
Hansen’s have a single customer in the Middle East who has embraced Australian and Tasmanian quality fruit at the premium end of the market.
“One of the highlights of my career was being able to fly to Dubai and see a trial shipment of apples arrive,” says Baden. “I was also able to speak to the retailer and come back with a program. That was the first time I’d ever seen our apples on a supermarket shelf outside of Australia and I loved it, they looked fantastic.
“There was a woman buying them when I was standing there, she was an Australian expat and was so happy to see Aussie apples in store and when I told her it was our fruit we shared a nice little moment.”
Exploring new markets and taking risks
Japan also has the potential to be a good market because Tasmania has market access for apples and the Japanese are interested in purchasing Australian fruit. Tasmania gained access to export Fuji apples to Japan in 1999, which was opened to all varieties in 2006.
However, market access to Japan comes with the requirement that Tasmanian apples exported there must undergo methyl bromide fumigation to disinfest them of any codling moth. The original fumigation chamber to do this was located in Hobart and operated by TasPorts. But the chamber was closed in recent years due to ongoing internal browning and fumigation scald issues.
“There has always been demand in Japan for Tasmanian apples but ongoing quality issues made it uneconomic for growers to send their fruit there,” Baden explains. “We’ve brought the prospect of exporting apples to Japan back to life because our Japanese customer came to see us, had a look at the fruit and was really keen to make it work.
“He visited the orchard the day before we were going to harvest Pink Lady® last year, fell in love with the apple and wanted to get it to Japan. We were looking for a market for our Pink Lady apples and decided to take the risk on it.”
As a result, a new methyl bromide fumigation chamber was built on Hansen’s site.
“The first 40-foot container to be fumigated was a complete failure and we had a range of teething issues,” shares Baden. “When you combine the costs associated with building the chamber; plus bringing over a Japanese MAFF [Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] officer; plus the loss of a full container of apples; we are a hell of a long way behind before the project becomes profitable.”
“The second container we fumigated turned out better,” Howard adds. “However, on arrival in Japan there was still a minimal amount of fumigation scald. We’re assuming it’s the methyl bromide lingering that’s causing the damage so we need to ensure we can ventilate the chamber effectively to stop that happening.”
They have identified two issues that potentially caused problems for the former chamber in Hobart that also need to be addressed in their new chamber: 1) Inadequate ventilation such that the methyl bromide was never properly removed from the packaging and chamber; and 2) Inability to return the fruit’s temperature to an ideal level prior to loading it.
“Our main focus has been to suck the methyl bromide back out of the packaging and getting the fruit back down in temperature,” Howard says. “When the fruit goes into the chamber it needs to be warmed up to 17 degrees as part of the protocol to be treated with the methyl bromide.
“Our systems work well to warm it up; we’re assuming the gas part is OK; we’re confident the cooling part is OK; the only thing we’ve got to focus on is more effectively getting the methyl bromide out of the chamber.”
So, they haven’t lost hope and are confident they will overcome their issues by making two or three changes to the chamber prior to next year.
Howard’s also very quick to acknowledge the previous learnings from TasPorts over the last 15 years with the former fumigation chamber in Hobart and says without their preliminary work and research he wouldn’t have had the confidence to try again.
A team primed for export success
As a whole, the team at Hansen Orchards enjoy exporting. And, as it’s a key part of his role, Baden really enjoys the challenges he faces and the opportunity he has to grow the business.
There are lots of exciting things happening at Hansen Orchards, they have recently employed a new CEO, Jake Norris who was an accountant and advisor for the company at KPMG. And as Howard says, “if you haven’t got new and interesting things going on, well, what’s the attraction?
“I get a bit sick of reading how you can’t attract people to agriculture, well you can if there’s exciting stuff happening. But if it’s the same old boring stuff that’s been happening for 40 years, you’re not going to attract the sort of people we need for the future.”
Add good leadership, a growing business and valuable team members to the mix and you almost have a recipe for success.
“We’ve got to be able to offer these people a career path, we’re not going to be able to attract them if they think they’ll be in the same position, earning the same amount of money in 10 years’ time,” Howard explains.
“They come here as they see we’re going to be doing a lot of growing and there will be an opportunity to take on a bigger role and more responsibility that they can be rewarded for in the future. You need something to offer.”
Two of the younger members of the Hansen team, Thomas Griggs and Jack Bartels have both been enrolled in the Diploma of Agribusiness course at Marcus Oldham College, Geelong. And both have received support from APAL through the New Horizons Scholarship.
Thomas completed his study in 2015 and Jack will embark on the course in 2017. Prior to Thomas commencing the course the last horticulture-focused person to study at Marcus Oldham was Howard himself. It’s now part of his business’s strategy to attract younger people who are learning the latest trends.
“I think I’ve got three challenges in life and that’s to have a business that’s interesting and exciting enough that my 77 year-old father wants to keep being involved; that one day some of my kids might want to be involved in; and that we attract young, enthusiastic people into the industry,” Howard concludes.
Thanks to Howard and Baden for sharing their export story and to Fred and Hannah photography for the photo shoot.