Learning, embracing others, key to Young Grower of the Year’s success
Picture this: A young man from Vanuatu in his 20s heads to Australia for six months to pick some fruit and earn some money for his family.
He won’t see his wife and kids, nor extended family and friends for a long period of time. He arrives in Tasmania where he doesn’t know anyone, where they speak a different language, and play a very different kind of rugby (on an oval). He’s expected to work very hard and pick a lot of fruit for a boss he hasn’t met yet.
Having Young Grower of the Year Matthew Griggs and the team at Lucaston Park Orchards as that ‘boss’ is an ideal outcome for any seasonal worker.
For the last year Matthew has had around 10 permanent workers from the Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP) on his Huon Valley orchards for six months, plus an additional 40 at cherry harvest, and has been commended for the way he has helped integrate workers into a tight-knit local community.
“They’re a long way from home, and here for a long time,” says the fourth-generation grower.
“It’s important to make them feel welcome.”
Church services have been introduced at Lucaston Park Orchards, a move well received by workers, many of whom come from devout Christian upbringings.
But as Matthew acknowledges, the benefits are mutual when it comes to making workers feel at home.
“It’s good for us too because they want to come back,” he said.
“You get the same people back and you know that they can do the work, they don’t need the training and that they’ve got the fitness for the job.
“Happy people are helpful people.”
The apple orchard makes up around 25ha at Lucaston Park Orchards, where they pick Jazz, Envy, Pink Lady, Royal Gala, Golden Delicious and Fuji. As well as apples, pears and a seasonal apple juice, the Griggs family also grow cherries, raspberries, strawberries, plums and quince.
Striking the right balance of working out how much money to invest into things like resources, technology and research is a well-documented issue for growers, but Matthew is also committed to investing in expanding his own knowledge.
Committing eight to ten hours every week from February to November isn’t the easiest thing for any 30-year-old to fit in but Matthew said the course taught him a great deal.
“The scholarship was really, really good, I’m so glad I got the chance to do it,” he said.
“The biggest point I took home was the concept around value creation.
“One big issue at the moment is all the different new varieties coming out. No-one seems to know which one to go for.
“Attached to them are sometimes quite exorbitant fees to market them. At the end of the day all club varieties are locked into a higher priced segment of the market just to pay for the additional associated costs, most of which add little value for the end consumer.
“Some do, but unless they’re increasing the value in the customers’ eyes by more than the extra cost to you per kg, they aren’t worth it.”
A former Tasmanian Young Grower of the Year Matthew said he was ‘very honoured’ to receive the national award and he hoped to see more young people joining the sector.
“If we want an industry in the long term it’s very important there’s young guys coming through,” he said.
“But there has to be a role people want to do. You’ve got to want to do it, and it’s got to be a viable career. I don’t think there’s many barriers, although I think a barrier which is probably not considered much is the growth of agriculture.
“If the industry as a whole is enabled to grow then there’ll be more jobs.”