GETTING out in the field and getting his hands dirty still remains one the favourite tasks for SA Grower of the Year Doug Nicol.
Doug, who operates BD&MD Nicol at Virginia with wife Grace, has grown up in the vegetable industry, building the farm his parents Barry and Margaret Nicol started in 1963 into a business that sells carrots into four states and international markets, as well as supplying SA retailers.
They process about 80 tonnes of carrots daily on 285 hectares in a seven-kilometre radius from their centre, where they package the produce into their own Nicol Carrots label and others.
For Doug, it is about continuing the legacy started by his late father Barry.
"When my father started the business, we used to grow all crops - cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuce, carrots, potato and onion - but as time went on, we reduced the lines," he said.
"All the machinery is different for different crops. We were at the crossroads and we decided to pick carrots and do that successfully.
"The beauty of the Northern Adelaide Plains is we can grow them 12 months a year."
As well as being suited to their location, Doug said carrots were also a popular vegetable - consistently ranked in the top three of Australia vegetables - because of their versatility.
"You can eat it raw, juice it, roast it - you can pretty much do anything," he said.
Seeing the finished product is another of Doug's favourite parts of his job.
"The most rewarding part is not only doing the work, but seeing the product end up in the consumer trolley," he said.
Doug is also involved in industry work.
He considers research and development a big part of their business - always trying to ensure that taste, shelf life and customer satisfaction are high - but is also involved in research on a broader scale, a tradition started by his father.
"We're not selfish, and we like to do things for the wider industry as a whole - seed trials, marketing campaigns - for the overall benefit for local and wider vegetable community," he said.
While the basics of growing are still the same as when he started - "you put the seed in the ground and pull a carrot out" - there have been some big innovations in Doug's time, including better varieties, increased mechanisation and the use of hydrovac cooling to snap chill the carrots and keep them fresher, longer.
Ausveg SA chief executive officer Jordan Brooke-Barnett said the Grower of the Year award recognised the efforts of a quiet achiever who was well regarded both within his family business and the broader industry.
"Doug Nicol is a true leader in our industry and someone who the rest of the industry can aspire to," he said.
"He is respected for his commitment to the broader industry and his willingness to roll up his sleeves to assist with commercial and industry projects which benefit the entire industry."
Doug said it was an honour to receive the award.
"It's nice to be recognised for the work and effort my family has put into the business, past and present, but it's also the support from staff, suppliers and most importantly, the customers," he said.
Also recognised during the awards was SA Young Grower of the Year Anthony de Ieso, Thorndon Park Produce, Waterloo Corner. This is the second year he has claimed the title.
Anthony operates a Feed the Need program out of his family's business - helping graduates to get work experience in the industry, with the produce donated to Foodbank.
He is also actively involved in Hort Innovation, sitting on committees, runs a number of variety trials and also has a YouTube channel to help share research with more people in the industry.
Other award recipients were Maria Colangelo, Rainbow Fresh, who won the Women in Horticulture award; Jon Ferguson, Viscon Australia, picked up the Industry Impact title; Greg Baker, SARDI, was the researcher of the year; and the SA Produce Markets took out the Biosecurity Award.
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