Greensill Farming demonstrated the importance of being good neighbours when they hosted nearby residents at a community open day on Saturday.
Qunaba locals were taken on a tour of the Sweet Potatoes Australia packing and value-add facility, giving them an opportunity to find out about the growing business, employment and community involvement first-hand.
Greensill Farming Group chief executive Peter Greensill and general manager Damien Botha led the tours, providing community members with answers to a range of questions about the family-owned agribusiness that's been in the Bundaberg Region for 75 years.
The journey began in 1945 when Roy Greensill ploughed, raised and cut 200 acres of sugarcane by hand, bringing home the first Greensill harvest and laying the foundation for what was to come for grandsons Peter, Andrew and Lex Greensill.
A large crowd gathered at the Windermere Road facility eager to find out some of the inner workings of the global business.
As the tour of residents entered the Sweet Potatoes Australia value-add facility, Damien explained some of the environmental measures Greensill Farming Group has undertaken to develop sustainable practices, and the global demand for the locally grown product.
Employment opportunities on the horizon
Working with other local sweet potato growers to keep up with market demand, Greensill Farming Group employs more than 230 full-time staff, with an expectation of adding another 100-150 employees in the next three to five years.
“We are one of the only locations around the world harvesting 52 weeks of the year. Domestically Bundaberg also supplies 80 per cent of Australia’s sweet potatoes. That’s a huge volume we grow here in our backyard and not many people realise just how important our region is,” Damien said.
“As we continue to expand into export markets, it’s also important that we remain competitive. Changing the way we do business will give rise to many highly skilled jobs and opportunities with technology and automation.
“We’re really excited about the ongoing jobs growth and another 150 roles within the business also means the potential for more families moving to the area.
“There are large flow-on impacts to the economy, from hospitality through to real estate; economic activity is a big factor in driving the future of our region.”
Damien said supporting local businesses was key to helping the Bundaberg Region thrive.
“Where possible we will always look to buy local, that’s what makes Bundaberg such a great community in that we can all support each other,” he said.
Significant changes at Greensill Farming
The Windermere Road facility started production in 2016 and has significantly changed during the last four years to keep up with the growing market.
Damien said there was minimal waste when it comes to farming sweet potatoes because there is a demand for all shapes and sizes of the nutritious vegetable. He said small sweet potatoes were used in products such as the Too Easy Microwave Sweet Potatoes which launched last year.
Smaller sweet potatoes were also popular with businesses such as Hello Fresh for meal kits which suit the clients’ needs.
Premium sized and shaped sweet potatoes were bound for supermarkets around Australia such as Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA as these were preferred by consumers.
Bundaberg sweet potatoes sent around the world
Damien said with sweet potatoes having a long shelf life it was viable to export and the market had increased significantly in the past two years, with further growth expected in the next two years.
Growing sweet potatoes in the Bundaberg Region has its advantages for Greensill Farming as the right climate and conditions means they can harvest year-round, whereas other regions had seasonal breaks.
“We start planting and then somewhere between 150 and 210 days later the crop comes out of the ground,” Damien said.
“Australia has a huge advantage in the global market in that we harvest 52 weeks a year, and there are very few places in the world with the ability to do this.
“We can be sending product right around the world every single week into Europe, the UK, the UAE as well as all over the Asia Pacific region.
“In Australia there is a huge opportunity for us to really become a global player. This week we have containers going to Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Thailand and Malaysia.”
Positive feedback after community open day
Peter said the feedback from Qunaba residents who attended the open day was positive, and it was nice to be able to give neighbours the opportunity to see what's happening behind the scenes in the growing sweet potato industry.
“It was a great turnout, far bigger than we had expected really. I made a joke with mum and dad saying they had better come along in case we were short of people, but we just about had to ask them to go home after the turnout,” Peter joked.
“But no, it was really pleasing to see the big turnout and have a conversation with people, just to explain a bit of the detail around all the bits and pieces that we have moving around.
“It was nice to be able to give people some insight and allow them to understand a little more about us, that’s what today was all about.”
- Earlier report: Greensill Farming Group looks to future expansion