Growing the best in the west with Yara

July 10, 2023 | 5 Min read
It’s quality first and daylight second in every aspect of the operations at Bogdanich Farms, one of the state’s largest producers of leafy vegetables.

It’s quality first and daylight second in every aspect of the operations at Bogdanich Farms, one of the state’s largest producers of leafy vegetables.

Third-generation vegetable growers, Andrew and Michael Bogdanich, operate three properties in the Neergabby district about 85 km north of Perth.

With 220ha under fixed or pivot irrigation, their business produces more than 16 million heads of cos and iceberg lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, celery and broccoli throughout the year.

From its immaculately presented farms, infrastructure and packing shed to the three gleaming semi-trailers that shuttle backwards and forwards to Perth seven days a week, every aspect of the operation is focussed on quality.

“Quality is everything,” Michael Bogdanich says. “Without quality, we haven’t got a business. “We work very, very hard on getting the best product out there.

“There are bigger players than us, but we would like to think that quality-wise, we’re at the top end.

He says the biggest risk in the vegetable business is supply and demand and the weather. Anything can happen in the eight to 10 weeks between planting and harvest.

“In the past two years alone, we’ve had the pandemic, floods in the eastern states and just recently, the collapse of a major cold storage transport company.

“(But) you are always going to find a market if you have a quality product.”

Produce is consigned directly to three major supermarket chains or to wholesalers operating from the Perth Markets, which in turn, supply a number of other well-known supermarket and food service chains.

Produce is regularly on-forwarded to customers in South Australia, Victoria and NSW, meaning shelf-life is critical.

“Over time, you develop relationships with your customers, and you adapt your business to meet their specific requirements,” Andrew Bogdanich says.

“Each chain has different specifications we have to meet, whether it’s size, shape, colour, maturity, weight, eating quality, counts, defects, temperature, packaging and labelling.

“Traceability is an increasingly important part of the business. We have to be able to document everything we do from the moment the transplants go in the ground right through to the moment our vegetables arrive in our customers’ cold storage.

“That covers every input we use, including fertiliser, and that’s why we always use products from quality manufacturers.

“We have to have complete faith that what our suppliers say is in the bag is actually what’s in the bag. We can’t afford to find out the hard way.

“With Yara, you are buying from a reputable company. They have been around for a long time, and you can rely on them for consistent quality, guaranteed analysis and importantly, availability.

“We have used a lot of Yara products over the years and they store well, and they mix well. Plus, they back their product.

“If I have a problem, I know that I can call the Yara sales agronomist, Jason Brady. With some other fertiliser manufacturers, there isn’t a Jason to call.”

Michael Bogdanich says nutrition is about balance and timing. “If you don’t get nutrition right, everything is going to fail in terms of quality and profitability,” he said.

“Andrew and I are on the farm six or seven days a week and we monitor the crops every day. “We know when they need a bit of a push to keep moving forward.

“Our approach is to apply small amounts more often. You have to make sure the basics – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – and trace elements are available at the right time.”

Bogdanich Farms uses a range of premium granular and soluble fertilisers in its nutrition program.

Bulk blends are prepared in a dedicated mixing shed, decanted into 1000-litre shuttles and stored, ready for distribution to the pumps and pivots across the three properties.

The entire program is based around three liquid blends – NPK, calcium and sulphate of ammonia.

“We moved from liquids to water-soluble blends about five years ago because we wanted to do things better,” Michael Bogdanich said.

“Preparing our own blends means we know exactly what’s in them, as well as giving us the ability to adjust the nitrogen content or other microelements according to the season or particular crop.

“We do have a few modifications to cater for different crops, water quality and soil types, but on the whole, we try to keep it as simple as possible. Having three ready-to-go blends eliminates guess work at the other end.”

YaraTera Kristalon Special and Yaratera Calcinit are used as the bases for the NPK and calcium blends, while YaraTera Krista MgS is used to boost magnesium and sulphur content in the NPK and SOA blends.

Each blend is concentrated – higher than the 10% maximum recommended by the manufacturer but lower than the known saturation point – to minimise transport.

They also use broadcast application of the granular fertilisers, YaraMila Complex and YaraRega 15-7-13.

Michael says YaraRega has a slightly different analysis compared to YaraMila but it is a lot more soluble.

Bogdanich Farms was established as a market garden in the 1930s by Andrew and Michael’s grandfather, Ante Bogdanich, a hard-working Yugoslav who purchased his first block by cutting sugar cane in Queensland and then working as a stonemason in Perth.

His son, Ron took over the business in the 1950s, which by then had relocated to a 8ha block at Landsdale operation.

Ron’s sons, Andrew and Michael, joined the business in the 1980s and were instrumental in moving the business to Neergabby.

“We knew we had to move – the city was moving north, and our block wasn’t big enough to support three families,” Andrew said.

“It was a bush block when we got here. We put in the irrigation system and a shed and we started planting.

“Then we put some ‘add-ons’ to the shed, more bores, storage dams and more irrigation – and then ‘add-ons’ to the ‘add-ons’.

“To be honest, there was never a ‘big plan’. 25 years ago, we were growing a million head of lettuce each year. Now we’re doing that every seven weeks.”

Bogdanich Farms is accredited with FreshCare and the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme, two industry initiatives that help to ensure compliance with a myriad of food safety, legal and trade requirements.

The business also participates in FairFarms, a training and certification program that promotes fair and ethical employment practices, particularly for foreign workers.

“Growing vegetables is our blood, I guess,” Michael says. “It was all we knew as kids and all we wanted to do when we left school. Now our children are starting to become involved.”

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