At Coolabah Turf we’re about so much more than growing green grass.
We’re also deeply passionate about growing our people and leaving the land we toil for our turf in better shape than we found it.
One bloke who helps drive these important ideals for us every day with 110% passion and heart, is our Farm Manager Dave Geltch.
When this extraordinary bloke joined the Cool Turf family almost two years ago, we never dreamt of the deep impact he would have on our company culture and operations.
Yes, his prime focus is the day-to-day operations of our turf farm - making sure we're growing top quality turf, managing production capacity and irrigation needs, juggling seasonal pressures, ensuring supply is meeting demand and making sure we always make our deadlines.
But environmental stewardship and building strong staff morale are his hidden super powers.
Dave has an extensive background in landscaping, cropping and horticulture and is fiercely passionate about protecting the natural environment through conservation and sustainable farming practices.
His many years spent working the land in country Victoria and Northern Territory’s remote Mataranka have taught him many valuable lessons about protecting our natural resources for the sake of future generations.
"Environmental stewardship has always been very important to me,” Dave says.
“The thing about farming is that there’s often a lot of ag chem and fertilser applications required, and while organic is always best, it’s not always possible, and so in those instances it’s crucial that they’re used to their best end.
“In the NT we had to be so careful of protecting the local communities and the Australian native wildlife, and down here it’s really no different.
“While a lot of what we use at Coolabah is organic, there are some chemicals we need to apply to make sure we don't have weed infestations in the turf. The safe management, application and recording of that is critical.
“We have a natural waterway in Mullers Creek flowing right through the middle of the farm and so that environmental stewardship is always at the front of my mind.
"We've got a really wide range of wildlife out here, including black swans, pelicans, ducks and native fish species in the creek, and so it's crucial that everything we do in terms of fertilser application is executed on time, at the right rate, mixed accordingly and following prescriptions.
"It's good to see that what we're doing isn't hurting the wildlife environment, in fact I’m certain we're benefiting the environment in the way we do things here."
Soil depletion is also a real and major challenge facing the farming industry as a whole, according to Dave.
He says soil amelioration and soil health were critically important factors determining Coolabah’s farming practices.
“In the turf industry it’s not as much of a problem because the organic carbon levels in the soil are quite high here due to the way the turf grows. This industry is pretty good. But in other industries, we need to start ameliorating soils and getting them back to where they used to be. We need to be less reliant on synthetic fertilisers to grow our food.”
Contrary to what many people think, Dave says farming (harvesting) turf does not actually deplete soil levels.
He says because of the amount of organic matter being constantly reapplied into the earth, including organic fertilisers (chook manure) and clippings that ultimately go back into the ground when mown, at a minimum they are retaining the status quo with regard to land heights.
“When we harvest a slab of turf, the customer really is just buying an established root system to take the guess work out of hoping they will be able to grow in a luscious lawn,” Dave says.
“Because of the harvesting processes we employ to produce slab cut turf in preference to traditional turf rolls, we have the ability to supply a product with a more consistent, even base of soil, so while this is important for foolproof establishment for the home owner, it is insignificant in the whole scheme of things from a farming perspective.”
Dave is passionate about instilling the importance of looking after the land and natural environment in his team of young charges.
He says a big part of his role is also about making work an enjoyable place to be, fostering a culture of team harmony and keeping the guys motivated.
“When I started at Coolabah Turf it was one of the first things I noticed – that it’s such an enjoyable place to turn up to work – and everybody has played their part in doing that.
“We have a really strong culture of team safety, which is underpinned by our team harmony. When everyone gets along, and has mutual respect for each other, they are all looking out for each other from a safety perspective which makes an otherwise tough task easier to implement.
“Coolabah Founder Brad, who I've trained under, is the ultimate monkey, see monkey do. When he’s on farm you can just tell the place lifts. That extra 10% is found, and that’s what I’m striving to be like. I just want to have that same attitude Brad does and to be that type of leader, that when you’re here, you’re working 110%, and the team follows.
“It’s about educating the young guys as well. Role modelling is so important. That’s what I see my role as to them - it’s about leading by example and setting them up for a lifelong career.
“I get so much satisfaction out seeing the young guys’ passion building for the industry and watching their love for lawn and turf grow. I really get a massive kick out of that.”
Life on the Coolabah Turf farm is certainly never dull, says Dave, not only because the enterprise is always growing and expanding, but because of how reliant they are on Mother Nature dictating their fate through every season.
Winter is always a challenging season for the team, but they’re not afraid of hard work. Even if that does include tucking every blade of grass on the farm underneath frost protection blankets and painting the turf green with Colourguard to enable them to supply turf all year round!
Dave genuinely loves turning up to work everyday, and he attributes that largely to the team, the atmosphere - and to the luxury of working on a green farm in the middle of a hot summer.
“You don’t drive down the road in the middle of summer and have brown dusty paddocks all around you. It’s green and lush and you see your achievements and hard work grow in front of you every day,” he says.
"The appreciation you get for the work you do also makes you fall more and more in love with the role.
“I’ve worked at lots of different places in the past and it’s been nothing like this anywhere else. At other places you’re just a number – you clock in, you clock out, that’s it – but here everybody has their place and is appreciated for every little thing they do. It’s very rare.
“We don’t just grow grass at Coolabah Turf – there’s so much more to it than that. We grow people as well.”