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Grain by grain

From land in Wanneroo, where Dimitrios Trandos first started his farming business, four proud generations have been building upon 77 years of success growing sweet corn and beans

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Nick and his brother Stavros Trandos.

03 August 2016

In the oldest scripts, including the Bible, corn always symbolises everything that is nourishing and profitable, from which goodness is multiplied grain by grain.

And corn has lived up to this metaphor when it comes to Western Australia's Trandos family, whose livelihood and passion it has been since the 1930s.

It was in 1939 that Dimitrios Trandos, from Kefalari village near Kastoria, came to Australia armed only with farming skills learnt on the Greek soil.
His aim was singular - says his son, 82-year-old Nikos Trandos - to make some money from farming to be able to purchase more land in Greece to cultivate.

Then World War II hit Europe, and Dimitrios stayed behind, pulling along his wife and two sons, Stavros and Nikos. Nikos was a four-year-old when he first stepped on to Australian soil, his brother Stavros only one year old.

"If it wasn't for the war, our family wouldn't be here today," Nikos tells Neos Kosmos.

"My father came on his own, to work for few years, and then to go back to Greece. But World War II started, and then the Civil War in Greece, and instead of us welcoming him back to Greece, we packed our suitcases and came to Australia."

And, as Nikos remembers, farming in those decades was a much tougher practice that needed many working hands. With hard work and dedication, brothers Nikos, Stavros, and Harisios, alongside their wives and children, managed to secure more land and work their way up from the foundations their father had left them.

Between 1939, when Dimitrios, the pioneer of corn-growing in Western Australia first leased land in Wanneroo (just north of Perth) from another Greek immigrant known as Mr Pappas and established the Trandos farm business, and today proudly stand four generations of successful farmers: hydroponic, cattle, chicken farmers, and corn and bean growers.

The latter venture, going under the name of West Australian Corn Growers, is run by Nikos' sons, Jim and Arthur, and their cousin Michael.

After struggling to find workers to hand-pick crops like broccoli and cauliflower - due to the mining boom in WA - the family switched to mechanically-harvested crops only.

It was a move in the right direction, given that West Australian Corn Growers is now the biggest sweet corn and beans grower in the state, supplying customers around WA and interstate, and recently expanding to overseas markets.

"I am proud to see that our children are doing what we did, but even better and with more success," Nikos says proudly.

Jim, Arthur and Michael Trandos.

WORKING BY THE MOONLIGHT

Growing up on the farm within the business that employed only family members, for Jim and his brother Arthur meant that after school hours were usually filled with hands-on experience on the farm.

When you familiarise yourself with the operating hours of the corn grower, you fully get to understand Jim's words that it was 'hard work'.

"We harvest corn 360 days a year, that gives us the ability to have twelve months' supply for our customers," Jim tells Neos Kosmos.

Within the vastness of Western Australia, this was possible, as the Trandos farms are situated at opposite ends of the state.

"The Trandos family now owns three corn farms: Goodwell in Gingin, a property called Shelamar in Broome, and the original property in Wanneroo, where all the processing is done."

The harvesting that goes on every day of the year usually starts around midnight and finishes with the sunrise.

The Trandos family believe that working by the moonlight gives them a better product: as green as possible corn. Once the sun is out, cool rooms are already filled with corn, and everything is ready for processing. The product will reach its destination by the next morning.

EVOLVING ALONGSIDE CUSTOMERS

Apart from switching to their most viable crops, the largest grower of sweet corn in WA has also decided to expand into the export market, and they are in the process of making more land available for organic farming.

"One of the reasons is that we bought a new farm, near Broome, with part of the property already certified organic. It was much easier to get a certification for organic production from an existing organic farm, from virgin soil, that has never been grown on, rather than starting from an ordinary farm that has been cultivated conventionally, where it can take up to three years," Jim explains.

"We are now in the process of making more land available for organic production, as this is what helps with exports."

West Australian Corn Growers already has seven countries on its export customer list, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Every week, its three farms produce over one tonne of corn for local and international needs.

Having switched partially to organic production, Jim emphasises that the way other crops are done with today's chemicals and technology, is not that much different to organic production.

"The way we do [organic] crops today, and conventional practices that are in place at the moment, there is not much difference. The chemicals are safer then 20, 30 years ago when it was very hard to become an organic grower. We already used practices that are nearly organic anyway - predatory insects and bacteria to protect the crops and for pest control," he explains.

FAMILY MATTER

The Trandos farms today employ around 100 people – much more than in the years the business meant 'family only'.

The key to the success of a business that involves fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins, Jim says lays in doing things separately but together.
"There are a lot of us. It's been good, as we split up and started doing a bunch of different things - we didn't stick to one thing only.

"We are not sitting on top of each other, we are not even in the same office – at the moment, we've got three farms that are 3000km apart," he says.
And the secret is probably, as Jim humbly suggests, in that inherited quality of fairness that all Trandos family members seem to have.

"From my perspective, I think we've always been very fair as a family - my dad has been like that, my grandfather, my uncles are very fair and we all seem to have that sort of quality. Culturally, it is very important to us."

With the land of their forefathers struggling to thrive on its agricultural wealth, the only advice that Jim would give to Greek leaders is the one he used in his own business. Another secret of its success.

"There is some beautiful farmland in Greece from what I can remember. I don't know what the situation is like there, but I know that you have to look at the crops you are growing. Before you start farming and even think about it, you have to have a customer, you have to work backwards. Ask yourself what you are going to grow. You have to work out who are you going to sell your product to, before you sell it. Look at what the market wants, look at something new, or look at something better."

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