Regarded as one of WA’s biggest salad producers, The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company produce around 20,000 kilograms of fresh, gourmet vegetables each week. The business operates across two sandy soil properties spanning 60 hectares in Gingin, growing cos lettuce, baby spinach, baby leaf red and green lettuce, rocket, mizuna, tatsoi and French kale.
The company has been owned by the Dobra family - Maureen, Barry and son Kevan for more than 33 years, solely focusing on lettuce mixes for the past 20 years. This switch in focus was to align with growing consumer demand for fresh-cut baby leaf spinach and salad mixes.
Kevan said they process all their own salad mixes at a custom-built packing facility on site. “We have exported and sold out of the state in the past but are now focusing purely on the reliable local market here in Western Australia,” he said. “To meet our demands, we need efficiency and reliability across all our operations.”
The mixed salad industry has a relentless nature, with rapid crop cycles. For example, Mizuna is harvested 14 days after planting and spinach about 24 days, while cos lettuce is one of the longer varieties being cut every 40 days. The ideal cut for greens also fits neatly on a salad fork, which can be a difficult proposition when involving heavy machinery. With these variables in mind, the Dobras rely on a line-up of dependable John Deere machinery.
Over harvest, Kevan turned to John Deere 5 Series Tractors, including a 5083E supplied by AFGRI Equipment in Moora, with another 5083E and 5093E recently arrived as well. The operation relies on the power of the John Deere 5083E to get through long days, while its refined hydraulic system ensures the precision needed for harvest. “At harvest, the tractors are working roughly between eight and 12 hours a day for five days a week, and that’s why reliability is the key for us when it comes to machinery,” Kevin said.
The company’s custom-built harvest implement uses the 5083E’s centre hydraulic systems, which provides up to 60.2L of flow per minute, to control the height of the cut on a plant’s stem. Kevan said the company has a large seasonal workforce, so machinery must be easy to use. “With the 5 Series, we can train backpackers to work as operators during harvest quite quickly, which makes them a great machine for our business.” Once harvested, the produce is processed at the packhouse, being sorted, washed, spin dried and packed, ready to be distributed across WA.
Kevan said there was no better feeling than walking into a grocery store and seeing The Loose Leaf Lettuce Company packs from his farm. “It makes all the hard work feel very worthwhile,” he said.