April Sun Farms

This interview details April Sun Farms, an indoor farming company based in Australia. The interview is with Ty Dickson, Director & Co-Founder of April Sun Farms.

Source: April Sun Farms

What is the origin story of April Sun Farms?

Previous to 2018 myself and fellow Co-Founder Darren Nichol were on vastly different professional trajectories, that were once seen to be exclusively independent.

Darren was exposed to the fresh produce markets from the time of his first footsteps, and having a natural interest in the sector saw him moving through many roles.

Some of his roles included Category Managing at a tier 1 market operator, and Vice President of Sales at a Japanese multinational, this is where he saw the operations of a seedling chamber used in conjunction with a greenhouse.

Source: April Sun Farms

I was coincidently exposed at an early age to the HVAC&R sector, including the construction and commissioning of clean rooms which share some similarities to properly designed indoor precision farms. With roles including Drafting and Engineering Manager, Project Manager, and Estimating of large-scale projects at a multi-national tier 1 mechanical contractor.

As long-time school friends, we were catching up at a local bar, where Darren shared his thoughts on vertical indoor farming, and asked for my potential input. After much thought, we agreed the case for a properly built and operated farm in this sector was worth our combined talents and efforts. From here we worked together on formulating an extensive plan for April Sun Farms’ future. With this unique opportunity presenting itself, we sought to take on the challenge.

Source: April Sun Farms

 

What are some of the biggest challenges facing April Sun Farms in the future? 

We plan on bringing our fresh produce and growing methodologies to other states and territories, as well as other countries in the future. As we are the builders and the operators of our farms, we must expand our operational staff, and also our engineering and construction teams. Selecting the right combination of people will enable us to achieve these goals effectively. This task will take much consideration and effort.

Source April Sun Farms


What is unique about April Sun Farms compared to competitors?

Typically, indoor farms are known to be expensive to operate, resulting in the produce grown requiring a price premium for goods sold in order to be profitable. However, issues will occur if the market doesn’t respond to this requirement. And this is why many of the successful indoor precision farms are situated in regions where it is either hard to cultivate, or energy is inexpensive.

Being based in Australia, we aren’t afforded either of these conditions. Energy isn’t inexpensive, and the growing conditions are excellent for cultivating, this includes Victoria where our operations are based. From the beginning we’ve considered these points, with the understanding that if we developed an indoor precision farm that were profitable in our home state, it would fare well on any corner of the globe.

To give an idea of where we’ve taken this, we’ve managed to outperform local greenhouses annual energy expenditure by a reasonable margin during the previous financial year. And reduce our square meter/foot energy costs this year despite a nearly threefold increase in our wholesale energy price, which was simply a consequence of our 2023 built ‘cultivating block’.

Source April Sun Farms

This has allowed us to continue to compete locally on price whilst being a profitable operation. In essence we deliver a higher quality product year-round at a competitive price point with the risks associated with traditional farming removed.

The benefits of this can be holistically looked at with enormous advances in the sub-sector of protected cropping.

When the capital and operational expenditure is beneficial to build and operate an indoor precision-controlled farm as opposed to a greenhouse, that specific space will begin a transition to more advanced growing methodologies. April Sun Farms are currently building and operating our farm beyond that threshold within one of the globes finest cultivating environments; Victoria, Australia.

Source: April Sun Farms


How do you measure the impact of April Sun Farms so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc? 

We measure our impact against the protected cropping sector mostly as this is where we can have the largest impact, with benefits to communities, the environment, and our business’ viability.

We have data on fellow farms within the same growing geolocation, at the same time we collect data on our own operations, and from there, we run analyses on these data sets.

Two primary examples of how we can analyze our impacts are; CO2 production, and operational energy costs.

Source: April Sun Farms

Our farm is made up of different sections that benefit from different designs and technology that we have developed internally and have implemented at different stages during our operational years.

With respect to these aforementioned performance indicators, and comparing farms at equal output, our farming section using the 2020 build design produces 22% less CO2 than a greenhouse in the same geolocation, the energy costs are also 25% less for the financial year 2022.

Evidently, the 2020 build is an excellent foundation to operate our business and a great benchmark for us to develop new methodologies and technology.

Despite our commercial success with our facility, throughout 2021 and 2022 we further developed our design, this has been implemented in our 2023 build and uses only 58% of the energy required for the same output of our 2020 construction.

Source: April Sun Farms

 

What have you learned that you wish you knew when you joined or started the company? 

The hardest learning experience was stepping out from a well-paid and secure job, into the wilderness of establishing a high-capital startup.

 

Our first year in 2019 was design and construction, there was no income, that was coming when we launched in 2020, we were also in a self-imposed lockdown working 7 days a week during this phase.


History would show us all the following year, that 2020 would be a year that blindsided the world over, and we were among the majority of being ill-prepared.

Source April Sun Farms

 

The official launch of our business happened in March of 2020 and saw us trying to set up commercial supply chains and new customers during the lockdown periods, alongside this we were also setting up operational procedures, and commissioning our systems, it was an interesting period...

 

Unfortunately, our geographical position meant we launched in the world's most locked-down city – Melbourne – and our expected primary customers were locked down for extended periods. This caused additional challenges, coupled with no support from state or federal governments, due to zero sales during the previous financial year.

 

All existing locked-down Australian businesses were in a position to show a potential loss of income and collect a government-supported initiative called ‘JobKeeper’. In 2021 our sales exceeded 2020’s, resulting in us failing eligibility for ‘JobKeeper’ once again despite our actual revenue.

Source: April Sun Farms

 

The ongoing position for all Australians, and especially Victorians under these conditions was untenable, and for our operations, this was no different. We all celebrated considerably when the lockdowns were lifted.

 

Ultimately, we see the work that we do, and the business that we’ve created to be important for the future. Regardless of the level of support we received we would establish April Sun Farms if we were required to do it over. Some things no matter how hard are worth doing.

Source April Sun Farms


How can people connect with you or learn more about April Sun Farms?

We can be contacted via our website through the contact form at aprilsunfarms.com.au

Via our Instagram at @aprilsunfarms, and even through LinkedIn. Alternatively, via email at hello@aprilsun.co

Source: April Sun Farms

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