NAB senior leaders take a closer look at Australia’s trade and export sector – providing all-important insights into how regional and agribusinesses can best respond to today’s challenges and opportunities.
For Irribiz, part of the ICI Industries family, designing sustainable water solutions for growers across Australia is only the start of the journey.
In terms of sustainability, as a grower there are not many variables more important than the ability to water your crop.
Making sure that goal becomes a reality for Australia’s growers is a business that originated in 1982 in Griffith, NSW. Since then, that fledgling operation has grown and diversified into the privately owned Irribiz and has evolved from pipe and riser open field flood irrigation to state-of-the-art micro irrigation systems.
It’s part of ICI Industries, which employs 124 staff across Australia.
In 2004, ICI Industries entered Australia’s emerging protected cropping industry. Its AIS Greenworks division specialises in the design, supply and installation of hi-tech greenhouses.
“Innovation is the key to driving the use of water and fertilizer down while at the same time increasing yield and productivity,” says founder Philip Jones.
The ultimate goal of ICI Industries, which has its head office in Griffith, is to provide customers with ways to use what water Australia does have as efficiently as possible.
“Our customers invest in infrastructure and technology to underpin their farming operations,” CEO Graham Foley says. “We in turn, from initial consultation through to commissioning and ongoing support, are committed to nurturing those partnerships to secure Australia’s horticultural industry.
“Forty or so years ago, irrigation generally involved flooding the crop, which was very wasteful. Our drip systems deliver a controlled amount of water directly to the roots, so every plant gets just what it needs.”
Modern irrigation practices allow farmers to be both efficient and sustainable.
“Extended droughts are a big challenge for any business, but particularly those in regional Australia,” Graham says. “The less water we have, the higher the price, and that can get to a point where inefficient watering of crops is unsustainable.”
The demand for year-round supply is also changing how crops are grown.
“To supply the market in different seasons, farmers in the north of the country ship produce to southern regions, but this is becoming too expensive,” Graham explains. “As food mileage costs have continued to rise, we’ve seen a move towards growing in an indoor environment where you can produce as many as three crops a year by controlling things like temperature, humidity and water supply.”
Debra McCann, Senior Business Manager at NAB’s Griffith branch, describes ICI Industries as a very switched-on business.
“They have a very smart financial controller, so they look to us for options and opportunities,” she says. “I check in with them regularly, as do the specialists who work with them.”
Graham appreciates the continuity.
“We’ve been with NAB since the business started, so they really understand how we operate,” he says. “They’ve also been really helpful in terms of our growth. We wouldn’t be in the position we are today without the support of the local NAB team.”
Meanwhile, ICI Industries is committed to strengthening its own communities.
“We predominantly operate in regional areas, and we do our best to support local industries,” Graham says. “We bring school leavers into the business whenever possible and manufacture locally when we can. That reduces freight costs and the risk of problems associated with the supply chain as it creates more local jobs, so it works well for everyone.”
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