When Joe Erceg bought his 380-acre Bacchus Marsh property in 2001 he didn’t know world famous sport stars and musicians would be walking on his lawn today. A former broccoli grower, Joe says the grass is greener since switching from growing vegetables to turf.
“The water restrictions brought in during the Millennium drought made growing greens difficult and we were forced to look at other farming options,” Joe said.
Joe saw the boom in urban development across Melbourne’s western suburbs and spotted a gap in the market he was well-placed to fill.
“I was watching all these houses go up that would need gardens and realised that’s what we need to grow as every Aussie loves a nice green lawn,” he said.
No one else was growing turf in the western district and it was a far less water intensive crop to grow. So, in 2012, Joe founded Big River Instant Turf and worked with a professional planting team to transplant 100 acres of turf onto his Bacchus Marsh property.
Over a decade later, Big River Turf is a family-run operation and a leader in the Australia turf industry producing more than a million square metres annually.
Joe’s daughter, Kathy Mikulic, is Big River Turf’s Customer Service Manager and loves working with her dad. She says he’s a born innovator and savvy businessman who knows the value of sustainability.
“We’ve lived through tough drought conditions and mindful we’re headed for a hotter, drier future so need to be smart about how we manage our water,” Kathy said.
“We only grow three drought-tolerant varieties – Kikuyu, Buffalo and Santa Anna Couch – because they don’t need a lot of water. This makes them a great crop for us and our customers who also want to minimise their water use,” she said.
They also rotate crops on different parts of the farm to nurture the soil, growing mustard and garlic seed, for example, and improving its fertility with natural chicken manure and gypsum.
Kathy said the reliable water they pump from the Lerderderg River into their 30 megalitre storage dam and Southern Rural Water’s support is essential to the business.
“Our local Southern Rural Water field officer, David Price, is always just a phone call away. David is quick to respond when we need help and we’ve always been happy with the service we’ve received,” she said.
In 2021, Big River Turf invested in a state-of-the-art, low-maintenance irrigation system to help them cater for the rising demand in their turf.
“The property was originally set up with a fixed sprinkler system, but we installed four centre pivots as they give us more control over where and when we apply water. It’s a fully automated system and makes our water use more efficient,” Joe said.
Big River Turf still use the original fixed sprinkler system in the areas around the pivot circle and have added some big, high-powered water guns to water other areas not covered by the new and existing systems.
As well as supplying residential developments, Joe and Kathy work with local authorities, football clubs, and hospitals to deliver top quality turf people can play and relax on.
“We grow grass for some of Melbourne’s most iconic venues such as the Myer Music Bowl, the Royal Children's Hospital and some big stadiums we can’t name for legal reasons,” Kathy said.
“It’s pretty rewarding to watch big games or see big acts playing in places that we’ve turfed and know that our product is part of the magic,” she said.
Joe and Kathy are optimistic about the future. They believe they have the right foundations for sustainable growth and are on the cusp of purchasing another property further to bolster their flourishing business.