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Werribee veggie grower primed for a sustainable future

29 November 2023 | News
29 November 2023

John Said is the Managing Director of Fresh Select – one of Victoria’s biggest vegetable growers. He believes modernisation in the Werribee Irrigation District means they’re well placed to feed the nation sustainably well into the future. 

John said building a modernised irrigation infrastructure has been the defining change in what was once a very antiquated system. 

“I think Southern Rural Water has been incredibly proactive in recognising the need to modernise the system and securing the funding to make it happen,” he said.  

“We were involved in the modernisation works and our experience working with Southern Rural Water has been positive. Thanks to all the hard work, we now have one of the most modern irrigation systems in Australia and it’s making a huge difference to how we operate,” he said. 

Fresh Select employ around 150 people at their Werribee farm where they grow lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. Their farm production represents 45 percent of business sales, and they work with around 15 other farmers in the region and across Australia to achieve the balance. 

John said secure water is one of the most important factors in their business and reliability of service the other half of the equation that makes everything add up.  

“Being able to get water coming down our irrigation pipes and into our storage dam at a phone call’s notice is so important. And we can now do this with our get new modernised system,” he said. 

Soils is another of Fresh Select’s greatest assets and they invest a lot of effort nurturing their dirt and operating a tilling and growing regime that helps maintain as much moisture as possible. And when it comes to renewable energy, they’re well ahead of the game and have just finished installing a huge solar system at their Werribee site. John’s recent switch to an electric vehicle shows he’s serious about sustainability on a personal level too. 

“We’ve been using electric forklifts for 25 years. We update the fleet regularly and will have ten online by next year,” John said. 

“Our significant roof space now hosts hundreds of solar panels that can produce enough energy to power much of our operations,” he said. 

With petrol prices likely to remain high, John believes Fresh Select’s investment in renewables is one that will pay off and keep them profitable in the long-term.  

When it comes to the future, John is optimistic and believes the next big opportunity for Werribee is improving the quality of water growers receive. 

“While we’re blessed with a reliable source of water, we now need to work on getting the quality of water to be able to diversify and grow new crops in the area,” he said. 

Some of the crops trending with consumers now weren’t in demand 15 years ago, but they are more sensitive to fluctuations in water quality. John believes if growers can get a guarantee on the right water quality, then it will secure a bright future for the region. 

“We are looking forward to working with Southern Rural Water and other partners to see how we can make this happen,” he said. 

When it comes to challenges, John says labour shortages, farming in a peri-urban area and climate change continues to be a threat to the business. However, he believes farmers have got what it takes to tackle the brave new world. 

“Aussie farmers are resourceful, smart people who’ve always found ways to grow high-quality food in tough environments,” he said. 

“Our businesses rely on healthy environments, so we’re at the forefront of sustainability and making food production profitable.” 

“I think if we continue to embrace technology, look after our environment and find new ways of doing more, with less, then we’re well placed to keep supplying Australia with the freshest vegetables well into the future,” he said.