Growing Innovation: Issue 2, March 17, 2016

Ben Cant is a 4th generation farmer who grew up on his family farm in Victoria. After a stint in the city where Ben attended University and worked for a short while in the public service, he returned to his roots to following his legacy of growing high quality fruit.

Ben Cant, Impi, VIC

And quite a legacy it is! With Ben’s grandfather starting the tradition of farming when he migrated to Australia from America in the 1960s and also introducing a fruit that they continue to grow today.

“We have specialised our operations by planting red grapefruit – which my grandfather was the original person to bring that into the country. This is a niche that we have found that we are good at – and we think we grow a great product and have build on that,” said Ben.

Today, the Cant family continue to run Impi Highland citrus, a successful 500ha property at Lindsay Point in northwest Victoria. As a grower, a packer, a exporter and a marketer, Ben’s career pathway on farm continues to keep him engaged. He and his family have built the business on a strategy of early adoption, as well as keeping at the forefront of consumer trends.

“We have adopted, and has certainly been a push from the industry, to early-peel fruit; mandarins has been something we have continued to plant. When trees have needed replacing, we have replaced them with mandarins, mainly because of the profitability. We have also seen changes on how we supplier the market; before it was to wholesalers and now we work directly to retailers, both in-country and export markets,” said Ben.

The export trade has become a focus of the Cant family business. America had been a target market but the change in the exchange rate and the opening of that market to other competitors, for example Chile, meant that Ben looked to other markets for profitability gains. This led him to the Japan market, and says, “Predominantly (we export) into Japan; China is going through a growth period, but for us – because we are area free – we have shifted to Japan by largest volume. China is following closely behind but the market access to Japan is better.”

While export markets are seen as opportunities for the greatest gains, Ben laments that gaining that market access is the biggest challenge that the industry faces.

“Making sure that we have free or cost effective access to our high priority export markets is key; there’s no point having access if the requirements are onerous and expensive – and hence that fuels our sales growth into Japan. As a market, it has great access and its low cost access,” said Ben.

The future is certainly looking sweet for Impi Highland citrus as they continue their business strategy of producing consumer driven, high quality and consistent produce. Ben says, what they are doing is working.

“We do what’s proven on our orchard, we focus on what’s proven and focus on doing the basics very well – that’s given us more consistent overall results; efficiently analysing our inputs and our production techniques, we are growing the best quality piece of fruit we can with known methods.”

Impi Highland citrus has an Orchard Area of 120ha and annual production of 4,000t across all varieties of citrus: oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, lemons and limes. The business also has its own packhouse, which took 10,000t in 2015 (including fruit from several other local growers) to supply retailers in AU as well as Japan, China, NZ, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Bahrain, Canada and USA.