The story of Harry

I could see a vision for Salanova® in Australia

Harry Turna walking through a lettuce trial in Gatton with customers and colleagues

Over the course of 22 years, Harry Turna has seen and done and it all at Rijk Zwaan – from ordering and packing seed, to hand delivering seed across the country. His proudest legacy is the introduction of ‘one cut ready’ lettuce, Salanova, which revolutionised the Australian salad leaf industry.

Networking is key

After gaining my Masters in Horticulture I moved from India to Australia in 1992. I was the fifth person to join Rijk Zwaan in 1996. In the early days, not many people knew Rijk Zwaan so a big challenge for us was to get relationships going. I started promoting the whole range of our crops which meant travelling 80,000km a year across Victoria and Tasmania. My style of work was going early morning to the wholesale markets in Melbourne, looking at all the boxes of where the produce came from, then visiting the growers.

I like getting out there and meeting people. You need to listen to growers, the industry people, the providores and the service sector. The more you network, the more you learn and the more you are able to get the best results for our varieties and for the growers.

Hard lesson learned

My first meeting with a ‘big’ grower lasted only one minute because I was not prepared. I took a catalogue, sat down and said, “I’m Harry from Rijk Zwaan”, and they said, “Thank you for coming”, and left. That was a hard lesson: when you go to these people, you go with purpose. Next time I went I had something to offer – the full story of our varieties and how we can help them. That time the customer spent more than an hour with me, we got some trials going and then the relationship kept building. When they changed their business direction, I was the first to get a call. I helped with their business model, sourced more information about processing and packaging and eventually organised a visit to our company trials in Holland.

Loyalty in the seed business very important. To gain loyalty with customers you have to focus on the after care, help with any special needs and even work in areas outside of your direct responsibilities. Ultimately you have to earn trust.

Harry Turna walking through a lettuce trial in Gatton with customers and colleagues

The role of a Crop Coordinator

Going between the breeder and the sales, passing on information both ways – that’s the role of a Crop Coordinator. I need to see what can be bred, what sales can do with that breeding, what the market is doing, what are the opportunities and threats. You’ve got to see early when the market is changing because breeding takes time. Sometimes you need a crystal ball. My role is challenging but ultimately we help put healthy food on the plate and that’s the part I love.

Salanova disrupts the market

It’s hard to escape a Salanova lettuce leaf in Australia. The first time I saw Salanova in Holland in 1999, I knew we could do something with it. Salanova offered a more mature and robust baby-sized leaf and that meant a more quality ready-to-eat salad leaves for consumers. We took it everywhere in the supply chain, targeting the supermarket and the food service sector. Soon the market could see the value and we changed the market direction. We were one of the first countries to introduce Salanova and now the “Australian way” of producing Salanova is providing better lettuce leaves for salad growers and consumers all over the world. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I was able to sharethat vision.