Ag News

Nathan Free takes out 2017 emerging agri leader award

  • By: Farm Tender "Prime"
  • Oct 26, 2017

Victoria’s largest organic producer, Nathan Free has received the 2017 Rabobank Emerging Leader Award, recognising outstanding new leaders in Australia and New Zealand’s food and agribusiness industries.

Mr Free, production manager of the family business Duralgai Horticultural, was presented the Trans-Tasman award at the annual Rabobank Leadership Dinner, in Melbourne last night.

Presenting the peer-nominated and judged award, Rabobank Australia and New Zealand Group managing director Peter Knoblanche said Nathan Free was “a force to be reckoned with” in the horticulture industry with his ambition to make organics mainstream and a bigger part of the consumer shopping basket.

“As someone with a huge thirst for knowledge, and passion for organics, Nathan’s potential is enormous – to not only grow his business, but to exponentially grow the retail market share of organics,” Mr Knoblanche said.

“Since returning to the family business nine years ago, Nathan, now 29, has helped transition his family’s fresh produce conventional farming blocks in the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District into a highly-productive organic fruit, vegetable and cereal operation.”

Under Mr Free’s leadership, Mr Knoblanche said, the family’s certified organic business had evolved into a more customer-focused business, with on-farm packaging facilities to distribute produce directly to major supermarkets and wholesalers around the country, as well as to export markets – including the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Dubai.

“Nathan’s focus on the end-consumer drives every decision, whether that be around what variety to grow or how to present the produce in its packaging, and it is this mindset and thought leadership that has seen him propel his business to where it is today,” he said.

As the fifth recipient of the annual Rabobank Emerging Leadership Award, Mr Free, who is also managing director of marketing business Wattle Organic Farms and sole director of Evolution Agriculture (an organic consultancy business) said the announcement had left him speechless. “And I don’t often get speechless.”

With a lifelong association with farming, having grown up on the family property at Lake Boga in Victoria’s north-west, Mr Free started growing vegetables at the age of 15 which he then sold at a roadside stall.

“If I could give myself a piece of advice when I started farming, it would be to make sure I always kept an open mind,” he said. “Being in organic farming, the perception is that I must be very open-minded, but you can sometimes close yourself off, or think you know it, but you never know it all.”

As someone who believes leadership is based on “good knowledge of what they’re doing”, Mr Free said he was always keeping his eyes open to see how people innovate or do things differently.

This was the main reason for pursuing a Nuffield Scholarship in 2015, which saw him travel throughout America, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and France to study sustainable organic production methods.

“Before Nuffield, I got my information from neighbours, the internet and industry newsletters,” he said.

Since his Nuffield travels, Mr Free said he would like to see greater collaboration within the industry through the development of an organic research farm (similar to one he saw in the US), where growers and researchers could learn from each other by testing and trialing ideas around varieties, weed suppression, soil health and nitrogen le...
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