How one Mildura almond nursery is branching out in a big way

Alan Saunders, Agromillora Australia’s director and general manager

Collaborating with a Spanish almond nursery is reaping rewards for one Mildura-based nursery.

At first glance, Barcelona and Mildura may not seem to have much in common, but one business partnership between both regions is certainly flourishing. Agromillora Australia is a 50/50 joint venture between Mildura’s Boulevarde Nurseries and Barcelona’s Agromillora Group – a world leader in fruit and olive tree propagation that was founded in 1986 and now has a presence in 10 countries, including Turkey, the US, Chile, Brazil, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan.

Assisted with a Victorian Government grant through the Regional Jobs Fund, Agromillora Australia has spent $3 million revamping its existing Irymple site near Mildura in north-east Victoria, building a new laboratory, manufacturing facility and shade houses, and creating 20 new jobs along the way. Begun in 2015 and completed in 2017, the facility can grow four million almond trees annually, helping alleviate the almond tree supply shortage to south-east Australia’s horticultural industry.

It came at the right time, as low supply was proving a major headache for the industry, says Agromillora Australia’s director and general manager, Alan Saunders: “Agromillora’s innovative production methods with the new facility has been able to provide the new rootstocks that the almond industry has needed to expand. The problem was very big but now most issues of supply have been satisfied. We’re also introducing new rootstocks to the market and super high-density plantings.

“The assistance from government meant we could develop our facility quicker and create new jobs with training from Agromillora in Spain. The business now has the ability to scale-up production to meet demand in wine, dried fruit, citrus, avocado, olives, stone fruits, berries, almonds, walnuts and other nuts. We’re going to take things to the next level, too, which will employ further staff.”

Secret to inter-country success

The amicable venture between Boulevarde and Agromillora, negotiated over 12 months, launched in 2015. Boulevarde’s tissue culture lab plus its lab trained staff, market share and client base have proved a good fit for Agromillora’s advanced technology, experience and volumes of scale. But the real secret to the inter-country partnership, explains Saunders, is communication, having the same values, and being lucky to have a Spanish general manager on board who’s adept at leading teams at nurseries in 10 countries.

Promoting a diverse culture is part of their shared values, too. The Agromillora Group in Spain follows a Spanish Government policy that for every 50 staff, a business must employ at least one disabled person requiring additional support. Saunders says although this isn’t policy in Australia, his company has employees from over 15 different cultures, two refugees and two staff with a disability. As time and training develops, he plans to continue down that diversity path.

Alan Saunders’ tips for international expansion:

  • Tip 1: Make connections. “Be prepared to travel and obtain Victorian and federal government assistance – a big help.”
  • Tip 2: Respect other’s views. “Listen and be considerate to understand different cultures and viewpoints.”
  • Tip 3: Embrace technology to boost profits. “For two years, we’ve been working with students and teachers at SuniTAFE’s Mildura campus based in Irymple, to produce the new farm technique of super high-density plantings. It will change the way almond crops are planted, worked and cultivated and make a lot of savings in many areas. It’s a system of planting higher densities, up to 2500 plants per hectare. Plants need to be less vigorous so genetics is important, and through Agromillora we have access to dwarf rootstock. Agromillora started to use the system 25 years ago with olives. It saves labour and as there’s a shortage of labour, it helps to mechanise production and make crops more profitable.”