In January 2007, a freak storm hit the Renmark region a mere two weeks before grape harvest. The storm caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage and almost crippled Sam Atwal’s vineyards and livelihood. Now 15 years later, Sam has expanded his property on an exponential level, introduced almond and pistachio crops and developed strong community ties which to this day, are the lifeblood of his business.
Sam Atwal entered the industry over 25 years ago when he started working alongside his father on their vineyard in Renmark and has since taken it over with his brother. Sam’s father purchased a small piece of land in Renmark in the late 1970s after migrating from India and the family business slowly grew. Sam attributes the success of this property to the strong levels of perseverance and commitment that was schooled into him from a young age. ‘Education is the biggest factor that has contributed to the success of my property. These days its not as simple as being just a farmer, you are wearing multiple hats running a property of this size. With the size that my property is now, I am an accountant, a business manager, a marketer, and a farmer. The only way to stay strong in this game is to invest in yourself and get the necessary knowledge to stay with the times.’
Sam runs three properties in the Renmark area, each specializing in wine grapes, almonds, and pistachios. Across these properties Sam runs fifteen tractors, five of these John Deere. ‘I evolved from having one John Deere tractor about five years ago to suddenly having five today, I bought them because I needed products that were easy to operate, comfortable and had the horsepower requirements to get the job done.’ Sam currently runs a 5115R, 5055E, 5100R and a 5101EN across his three properties.
‘Due to the limited amount of room between rows, spaced at 3 meters, and height restrictions from the almond trees, the John Deere five series specialty models, specifically the 5101EN and 5055E, were the perfect fit for my operation.’
Sam attributes a large success of his relationship with John Deere and Emmetts to the ability of the sales team to understand his needs and find a solution for these. ‘I spoke to my local John Deere salesperson at Emmetts about the need for a machine that would be able to pull a load of up to 7 tons. Although the Renmark branch did not have anything in stock that fit that specification, the salesperson and I went for a drive to Emmetts Roseworthy, north of Adelaide, where I learnt about the 5155R which was perfect for the job. I was amazed by the commitment of the Emmetts team to ensure that I could get the product I required in time’.
‘I now use the 5110R and 5115R daily across my properties to cart fertilizer tanks and conduct deep ripping operations, this is something I would not be able to do without the horsepower contribution from these machines’.
Five years ago, Sam made the decision to diversify his business by introducing an almond property to his portfolio. ‘We went into this investment knowing very little about the almond industry and knowing it would be an uphill battle preparing and regenerating the established trees on the property. There were a lot of critics at the time who did not think that we would be able to turn the property around and make it profitable however I know that with time and perseverance anything is possible.’
Sam continued, ‘It wasn’t easy, and it took a good three years to turn the property around and improve the yields. Fortunately, due to the drought in California and the affect it was having on the North American almond industry, the price of almonds increased significantly, and we were able to re-invest this back into the property.’
‘Purchasing this almond orchid also gave my brother Manjit the ability to join the business where he could but his technical knowledge to good use’. Sam and Manjit now work side by side managing the three properties. ‘We have storage facilities on side for our almonds and pistachios which are then processed locally and sold to markets in Sydney and Melbourne and our wine grapes are sold to local wineries’.
When asked about what was in store for his enterprise, Sam commented that ‘the next step is to start marketing our own nut products and selling straight to the market. We already have a fully automated system and are as advanced as we can possible be regarding precision ag technology. We are at a point now where we are waiting for the industry to catch up with the growers.’ Sam discussed his automated irrigation systems and frost fans which can all be controlled from his mobile device. ‘Having the ability to connect and manage these systems on the go is key, not only because I can constantly monitor them, it also provides financial benefits.
Sam plans to continue developing his properties in the future and introduce a marketing component to his business. Sam is a huge advocate for education and sees the benefits in upskilling to remain competitive in the business environment. Sam has a son who he will encourage to seek further education after he finishes high school this year so he to can have that competitive edge in the workplace. ‘Its been a privilege to have my family involved in the farm over the years, the support that we offer one another throughout the difficult periods is what pulls us through and what makes it all worth it in the end’. We wish Sam all the best and thank him for his time.