Growing Innovation: Issue 13, August 10, 2016

Good technology and strong leadership is what it’s all about 

Kylie Collins, Blushing Acres, QLD

For Kylie Collins and her family, nothing beats growing mangoes. “They’re just the most amazing fruit,” Kylie said. “I grew up spending pretty much every cent of my pocket money on mangoes, and now I get to be surrounded by as many of them as I can possibly eat when the season is in swing.”

And when the first fruit of the season does hit? “Watch out!” Kylie said. “Everyone in the family will have all had their eye on it right from the flowering and are just dying for a taste. When the first piece of fruit is ready we very, very carefully divide it up five ways so that my husband, Sam, the three kids and I each get a completely equal share.”

Kylie and Sam, who have owned their Dimbulah-based Blushing Acres since 2002, aren’t originally from a growing background. “I have a degree in business and Sam is a heavy equipment fitter by trade, and for years we had a mechanical workshop business in Papua New Guinea,” Kylie said. “Sam had always had a passion for growing things, so when we decided to move back to Queensland we approached the markets and asked the people there what they thought was a good thing to grow for the future. One of the things that really stuck out was mangoes, and now here we are.”

Kylie said that while she grew up on a sheep and cattle property, she’d never been exposed to the intensities of a horticulture business. “Starting out was definitely intense. There was a massive learning curve, and at the time our eldest was only two years old and I was five months’ pregnant with our second child. Now I’ve really come to appreciate the action of the season. Yes it’s full on and exhausting, but it’s short and sweet.”

One of the key challenges of growing mangoes is the ever-increasing costs, Kylie said – particularly in regards to labour. “Because we’re price takers, not price makers, we can’t pass our increased costs on to the consumers. So to overcome that you’ve got to always be looking at ways of mechanising things and just being as efficient as you can be.”

To this end, Kylie and Sam have implemented a range of technologies on their property. “For two years now we’ve had a Compac computer vision-based grading system in our packing shed, and that’s made the shed very, very efficient,” Kylie said. “As long as you’ve programmed it correctly – and doing so can be a challenge – it’s incredibly consistent and reliable. It definitely doesn’t get that 3pm blood sugar low!

“We also have a lot of automation with our irrigation and fertilisation and things like that. Obviously there’s a capital expense, but the automation means we get more time for ourselves at the end of the day, and can actually leave the farm and go away on holidays when the time is right.”

To improve efficiencies, Kylie and Sam are also constantly evaluating their trees. “We have 11,700 trees growing Calypso and Honey Gold mangoes, plus 2,500 avocado trees, and I don’t think too many of them are original to the farm,” Kylie said. “The change has all been through looking at the returns, looking at the margins.”

For the future, Kylie said she’d love to see mango growers come together more as an industry. “Let’s make sure we get involved with what’s going on – let’s attend field days together and have that opportunity to share,” she said.

“We had a spray-focused field day on our property recently, where we looked at calibrating spray tractors. Sam and I were fairly confident in how we were set up, but when we did the paper test and the dye test we weren’t getting the coverage that we expected.

“So you can always learn something on field days. They’re a good chance to see what you might need to look at, and ultimately how you can increase your yield and improve your quality.”

As well as more collaboration, Kylie said she’s looking forward to new areas of research for the mango industry. “I’d particularly like to see more work into a control for fruit-spotting bug, and I’d really love to see some robotic harvest aids out in the paddock – the idea of that type of automation is exciting. There’s so much potential for our industry to innovate in the future.”

Kylie said that developing leadership will play a big part in the industry moving forward, too, noting that with horticulture facing many challenges, skilled people are needed to be able to step up to the plate to drive change. “We need to constantly rally to make our businesses profitable,” she said. “And women are often forgotten as potential leaders, so I’m looking forward to seeing that change.”

Kylie will be taking part in Hort Innovation’s upcoming women’s leadership forum, to be hosted in Sydney on August 23, 2016. The forum will bring together emerging and established female leaders from across the Australian horticulture sector with a view to scoping the development of a new leadership program designed by women, for women in the industry.

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