Leaf it with us. How an engineer and a farmer developed a software system to get (more) salad on your plate
Growing up on acreage outside Roma, Matt Burey, 36, imagined himself not as a farmer but a man on the way to a career in technology.
He moved to Brisbane, gained a degree at the University of Queensland in engineering (computer systems) and headed overseas to forge his way in the tech world.
Matt spent time on rail projects in Hong Kong, worked on the London Underground and was part of the Heathrow T2 and T3 upgrades. He also spent two years in Estonia.
But a beer with his university friend, Hugh Reardon, on his return to Australia four years ago brought farming back to the Brisbane father of three’s budding tech empire.
Hugh is the Director of Australian Fresh Salads, a leading producer of baby salad leaves. As the old university mates caught up, Hugh told Matt his frustration at not being able to find a suitable online management tool to help run his horticulture enterprise.
Hugh wanted to build his own application and Matt had the IT skills to do it, so using their respective knowledge and insights the two collaborated and designed the cloud based full lifecycle farm management system Apunga.
A joint venture between Hugh’s Australian Fresh Salads and Matt’s Tehnika Group, Apunga provides horticulture growers with simple tools for business planning and resource allocation while digitally recording the day-to-day operations of the farm.
With clear benefit to growers and horticultural businesses, Apunga aims to strengthen Queensland’s global reputation for growing some of the safest and best quality food in the world.
“Farmers regularly have to undergo food safety audits and must go through all of their records which are often paper-based or in their heads,” Matt says.
“Apunga keeps all that information in one place and streamlines the entire record keeping process from growing the crop to planning where you are going to sell it.”
It was difficulties the pair encountered when collating information for input into the Apunga system that led Matt and the team to apply for an Advance Queensland grant.
“One of the really big hindrances we have found is onboarding customers and extracting historical information from paper-based records to make them useful in the Apunga system,” Matt says.
“We’ve used $100,000 in Advance Queensland funding to build wizards and tools growers can use themselves to fast track this process.
“We’ve also used those funds to go to trade to demonstrate our product to new customers, including from overseas.”
And that customer base is poised to grow. Having only just gone to market around 10 farms are already using the system in Queensland and Victoria, while there are others trialing the technology in New Zealand. Plans are also afoot to expand into the United States and United Kingdom, while growth opportunities have been identified outside of the horticultural sector.
“At the moment we are just focusing on the horticulture industry but we also recognise there is a need for a product like ours in other industries as well,” Matt says.
The spinoff of this potential growth extends beyond the immediate benefit of two friends proving to be part of the next wave of Australian innovators.
“One of the great attributes of our product is being able to increase productivity, if that is a goal of the farmer, and that can definitely lead to more employment opportunities on those farms for more people,” Matt says.
Apunga itself already employs two fulltime dedicated software engineers, uses a network of a further 10 staff and has clear plans to increase its footprint in the Australian tech space.
“Our goal is to continue to grow and develop and employ more engineers here in Queensland,” Matt says.
“There are definitely great opportunities here for small companies like ours and a clear need for our skill set.”