To mark the publication's 30th anniversary, Good Fruit & Vegetables' current editor, Ashley Walmsley, talks to the magazine's founding editor, Tony Biggs about starting a national magazine for the Australian horticulture industry.
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WALMSLEY: How did Good Fruit & Vegetables first come about?
BIGGS: My late wife, Frances, and I gained horticultural science degrees in the UK and like many commercial and professional horticulturalists, were subscribers to weekly horticultural magazines.
When we immigrated to Australia it was obvious there wasn't a dedicated national magazine for commercial production horticulture.
During my time as principal horticulturalist of vegetable crops with NSW Agriculture, I regularly visited the various production areas in the state.
This included visits to the Riverina with the local district horticulturalist, where we called on major producers.
One of these, Bruce Garry Smith, listened to what I would say about a lack of a national magazine.
It transpired that, unknown to me, Bruce was a director of the Australian agricultural publisher, Rural Press.
When the NSW Government decided to move the department of agriculture head office from Sydney to Orange, Frances and I decided that we didn't want to move from our North Richmond home.
Out of the blue I received a telephone call from Bruce Garry Smith inviting me to a meeting with Rural Press who had moved their head office to North Richmond.
At the meeting, it transpired that Rural Press had decided that perhaps there was a market for a national production horticulture magazine.
The company was keen for the magazine to be a tabloid format and to be called Good Fruit & Vegetables.
Frances and I had a requirement that rather than being full time Rural Press employees, our family company, Cardinal Horticultural Services would be employed as consults to produce the editorial content.
All parties agreed to the arrangements although Rural Press were somewhat dubious about having a consultant editor for one of its national magazines.
That was January 1990 and it was decided that the magazine would be launched at the Gatton Field Days in May.
We had four months to turn blank sheets of paper into a fully-fledged magazine.
With our horticulture science background, the editorial content was always going to have a major technical emphasis.
The advertising content was just as or if not more important and we were very fortunate in having an excellent advertising manager named Peter Riley.
With a lot of hard work at our end and the assistance of many colleagues and associates throughout Australian production horticulture, we built up a comprehensive list of potential subscribers to the yet unpublished magazine.
It was decided that the first two issues of the monthly magazine would be mailed free of charge to all of our potential subscribers but subsequent issues could only be obtained through subscription.
The technical content of the magazine at the outset and throughout my 13 years as editor was based around news and stories on current research from around Australia and overseas, a major detailed monthly business article - Enterprise of the Month; interviews with national and international horticultural personalities, new product information and much, much more.
I saw the technical content in being of paramount importance.
WALMSLEY: How was the publication received by the industry?
BIGGS: The success of launching a new magazine into a previously un-serviced market was always likely to be something of a gamble.
But the uptake of the magazine throughout Australia was a clear indication that there was a need for such a publication.
The extent of the success with subscribers and advertisers can be judged by the fact that while the product was a significant financial outlay for Rural Press in the early days, Good Fruit & Vegetables began to break even and make a profit in the second year of publication.
Another contributing factor to the timeless success were the changes taking place in the departments of agriculture throughout Australia, especially in the areas of funding and communication of information.
Researchers and advisers needed to get their message out to the horticulture industry across the nation. Good Fruit & Vegetables gave them a vehicle to spread those messages.
WALMSLEY: What were some of the guiding principles you stuck to during your time as editor?
BIGGS: As already indicated, with Frances and I both horticultural scientists, and later with the addition of Paula Smith, another scientist, the relevance and importance of technical information were always going to be the major platforms.
With several decades of experience with horticultural industries here and overseas I was reasonably confident that the format and content nature of the magazine was what the industry wanted.
Obviously, we could not carry information on all crops and issues in every issue but the underlying principles associated with one type of crop production and marketing were clearly seen as applicable more widely.
The production of Good Fruit & Vegetables was a team effort right from the start.
The editorial staff, the various advertising managers over the years, graphic artists, layout designers and many more all contributed to the magazine being successful for all my 13 years.
Listening to everyone's views and ideas was an important part of that success.
WALMSLEY: What changes did you see within the horticulture industry within your time on the publication?
BIGGS: A major change involved the methods by which producers and other members of the industry accessed information.
In the early years we were moving from a state-based free advisory and research service with a large number of researchers and district horticultural advisors to a user pays system where activities were funded from industry levies matched by federal government funds.
There was increasing competition between advisors and researchers for the funding of projects.
We also saw the onset of non-government advisory and research activities possibly linked to the usage of commercial products and systems.
There was also a move to consolidation in many industries, with large concerns getting larger and small units being absorbed.
Many of the last concerns formed direct supply chains with major retail companies.
Government legislation was a continually expanded feature with growers having to spend an increasing amount of time in bureaucratic form filling rather than concentrating on growing their crops.
This continues today.
WALMSLEY: What were some of the challenges in putting together a monthly magazine back in the 90's?
BIGGS:Good Fruit & Vegetables was designed and delivered as a national magazine.
As indicated earlier, this was one of the major reasons for its success.
In order to maintain that nationalism it was essential for the editorial and advertising staff to be up to date and aware of activities and issues in all parts of Australia and overseas countries which could impact here.
I was extremely grateful to Rural Press for allowing me to travel throughout this country, and sometimes overseas, in order to maintain the relevance of our information.
Another important benefit of my travelling was the subscribers in major production areas got to meet the editor and put their local issues directly.
The continuing success of the magazine depended largely on the activities on the advertising staff in meeting their monthly targets for income.
Peter Riley, Roland Cowley and Mike Lamond were all very efficient in this regard and their success allowed the editorial staff to pursue their maintenance of technical excellence.
WALMSLEY: Are there any particular stories or articles that stand out for you over those 13 years?
BIGGS: I always enjoyed writing my editorial each month and although I cannot recall all the issues which I pursued in more than 150 editions, many generated comments both favourable and otherwise from the readers.
However the major features which gave me the greatest satisfaction and pleasure was the monthly Enterprise of the Month story.
Each article was fully illustrated over four or five pages and detailed all aspects of the organisation.
Each enterprise story was something over 4000 words.
The picture on the front cover of each magazine pointed towards that month's enterprise.
Choosing the enterprise story for the first issue in May-June 1990 made me somewhat apprehensive because I didn't know how the company would react to having some of their details and practices revealed.
However the outcome was very satisfactory and the story of Alpine Apples based in Wandiligong, Victoria remains as a particular highlight of my career.
Managing director, Keith Nightingale, his sons and his family farm manager, Henry Hilton, an ex-student of mine from my education career in England, all studied and corrected my various drafts with great attention to details.
This process of sending drafts back to the various enterprise personal for their comments and modifications, although time consuming was an essential process in determining the accuracy of the information.
WALMSLEY: Why do you think industry publications such as Good Fruit & Vegetables are so important to Australian agriculture?
BIGGS: Things continue to change with publications with print media being replaced by electronic systems.
My personal preference is still for a hard copy and the pleasure and satisfaction from holding the product in my hands and turning the pages.
Industry publications, especially those with a national or international focus, are important vehicles for keeping all aspects of industry and associated organisations up to date and aware of developments.
This applies to specific and personal information making the publication an important communication tool.
In addition, the publications are an important source of new ideas and information which may be valuable in determining the future pathways of the organisation.
If retained and catalogued, industry publications can also be valuable historical documents which can be vital in seeing where events and developments of the past maybe useful in determining pathways for the future.
WALMSLEY: The publication has been going for 30 years and your foundation work has been critical to that. How does it feel to have established something that has been part of the horticultural history for three decades?
BIGGS: Having started the magazine, editing Good Fruit & Vegetables for 13 years and creating this success, I feel the publication played an important role in communicating information to the horticultural industry.
Since leaving the editorial chair, it has been inevitable that the emphasises for the magazine has changed with succeeding editors putting their own flavours on the product and representing the policies of the parent company.
My overriding feeling of those first 13 years are of satisfaction and gratitude.
Satisfaction at being at the helm of a brand new publication which filled an obviously essential need for the industry.
Gratitude to Rural Press for giving me the opportunity to create something meaningful and to my late wife Frances and all the other staff who formed part of the Good Fruit & Vegetables team over the years, and finally to those many subscribers who supported the magazine and made it a success.
TONY'S IMPACT NOT LOST ON SUCCESSORS
TONY Biggs didn't offer up his shoe size. The topic didn't come up during the interview now printed on these pages.
Whatever the size, he left considerably big boots to fill for subsequent editors of Good Fruit & Vegetables magazine.
For 13 years, Tony Biggs edited this publication.
It was Tony who came up with the idea, who mouldeded the editorial direction, who wrote copious amounts of copy to fill pages and worked closely with advertising staff to ensure it was a commercial printing success. His eye for what growers and the industry wanted to read about at the time, set the tone for the magazine that continues today.
The days of the 4000-word Enterprise of the Month have gone but the commitment to featuring growers and businesses doing innovative and progressive things, continues.
Each editorial Tony wrote was labelled "Across the Editor's Desk", thus we decided to go with "Looking back across the editor's desk" as the headline for the interview here, complete with the question and answer style he used so often for major interviews.
These days, commercial pressures dictate the size of the magazine as companies are spoilt for choice of where to spend their advertising dollars.
The Good Fruit & Vegetables website has become a source for industry stakeholders for current industry news, plus opinion pieces, videos, links and photo galleries.
Some challenges remain the same as they were in 1990 it seems, like how to cover as many industries as possible, across as many regions as possible, within a limited number of pages but with enough depth to explore an issue. Good Fruit & Vegetables will continue to serve the horticulture industry as a publication that isn't underwritten by a funding body or levy-paying growers.
It remains independent and relevant, just as it did when Tony Biggs sat in the editor's chair, and wore those shoes, 30 years ago.
- ASHLEY WALMSLEY