David Margetson and Rita Bikins take a stroll with their dog, Frank, in their 18ha grove in Pomonal, Victoria.

Boutique grower Rita Bikins is hitting the books to build her financial understanding of what it means to run a profitable boutique olive business.

“One of the biggest questions around being a small producer is how to fairly price our product to ensure we are not going backwards,” Ms Bikins said.

Rita is one of 30 like-minded participants in the 2018 Masterclass in Horticultural Business program, developed to equip Australian growers and business owners with high level leadership and business management skills specific to the horticultural industry.

Situated in Pomonal, near the Grampians National Park in Victoria, Ms Bikins and partner David Margetson have 5000 olive trees in their 18ha grove and also run Merino sheep.

“Our business, Red Rock Olives, produces Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), table olives and olive salt which we use and sell at our farm gate café. We also supply a number of local wineries and a few cafés in Melbourne,” Ms Bikins said.

“We made the move to regional Victoria in 2013 and purchased an established grove, five years on and we are now realising how variable the harvest seasons are. I saw the program as an opportunity to strengthen my financial skills to make sure that our investment in the olive grove and business is making us money at the end of the day.”

Proudly supported by the Hort Frontiers Leadership Fund, the program participants will spend the next nine months studying a range of topics, from financial management and law to marketing and communications, through flexible online study offered though University of Tasmania (UTAS) and face-to-face intensives.

“One month in and I’m already using the course information for the benefit of my own business,” Ms Bikins said.

“I recently completed a gross margin analysis for our 2015, 2016 and 2017 EVOO production and while the figures supported what I had already suspected, it was a good process to go through and it’s one that the banks understand.”

Ms Bikins believes that the Masterclass in Horticultural Business program is important for increasing the professionalism of the industry.

“There’s not a lot of middle ground between boutiques and large sized businesses, and increasing the business skills and capacity of the industry though specialised programs like this could help build more viable middle ground businesses,” she said.

“EVOO tastes and varieties are just as varied as wine, and it would be great to see consumers buying from regions and for flavours, not just what is on special at the supermarket. I see the olive industry as an early wine industry, it’s more than just hobby farming.”

The 10-month program will be held for the next three years, accepting around 30 recipients annually across Australia’s horticultural industries. For more information on the program and to register your interest for the 2019 program, follow this link. http://www.utas.edu.au/sciences-engineering/masterclass-in-horticultural-business

The Hort Masterclass is part of the Hort Frontiers Leadership Fund, a Hort Innovation strategic partnership initiative that uses a combination of government and partner funding to address major issues facing the future of Australian horticulture for the benefit of the entire industry.