VIDEO: Free-style organics

By: Anna Game-Lopata, Photography by: Andrew Britten, Video by: Andrew Britten

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Fourth generation horticulturalist Nathan Free is striving to give consumers access to a consistent supply of high quality, organic produce at an affordable price. Anna Game-Lopata reports.

Late one Monday afternoon, photographer Andrew Britten and I arrived at the Swan Hill region of northern Victoria to meet organic farmer Nathan Free at his family farm, Duralgai Horticulture in Tresco.

While his father Kelvin and uncle Colin undertake most of the farming, Nathan is managing director of the Wattle Organic Group, which markets and distributes organic produce from Duralgai under both the Alkira and Woolworth's Macro brands, along with supplementary lines from outsourced suppliers to supermarket, wholesale and export customers.

Duralgai, which means ‘sunshine’ in the local indigenous dialect, was started by the Free family in 1943 on just over 12 hectares with cows, sheep and pigs.

It was Nathan’s grandfather who put in the first table grapes, a few melons and onion seed.

Nathan’s father and uncle took horticulture further, developing the property into over 280 privately owned hectares incorporating conventional wine grapes and stoned fruit. Nathan’s dad looked after the stoned fruit and his uncle the wine grapes; that hasn’t changed.

Always innovative, the Free family never completely adopted conventional farming, preferring to use composting, soil management and soft fungicides rather than harsh chemicals.

It seemed a natural progression for them when, eight years ago, the stoned fruit market took a dive and they decided to convert the operation to certified organic production starting with stoned fruit and moving into vegetables later.

"We wanted to produce a premium line of fruit in the mainstream market using biologically managed soils and minimal inputs but it wasn’t a sustainable business," Nathan explains.

"Going organic has given us the small premium we needed to balance our extra production costs as well as increasing our lines and marketability. It’s also enabled us to invest in a year-round packing business which has created energy in the district."

But Nathan asserts the best thing about going organic was the realisation of his long held desire to supply consumers with a genuine healthy product at a fair price.

"We want to grow our business so that more people can access organic fruit. We are working to grow our markets, to supply more consumers.

"We’re striving toward a future of sustainable farming, where we can produce high quality fruits and vegetables that taste great but also do the right thing by the environment."

Don’t miss the full feature in New Farm Machinery magazine issue 20, on-sale March 30. Subscribe to the magazine now to never miss an issue.

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1143 Wattle Organic Nathan Free Wattle Organic Farms managing director Nathan Free pioneered organic stoned fruit production on his fourth generation family farm at Tresco near Swan Hill, Victoria. 1143 Wattle Organic Nathan Free
0909 Alkira yellow peaches A late crop of Alkira organic yellow peaches. 0909 Alkira yellow peaches
0970 Wattle Oragnics production line technology A grant from the Victorian government helped fund new technology for Wattle Organic Farm’s production line which went live in 2013. 0970 Wattle Oragnics production line technology
0976 Wattle Organics sorting Sorting the summer season fruit and vegetables. 0976 Wattle Organics sorting
1033 Wattle Organics Woolworths Macro Eighty per cent of Wattle Organic Farms produce is pre-packed under the Macro brand for distribution to Woolworths. 1033 Wattle Organics Woolworths Macro

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