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“To be a farmer, you need laser-like focus and discipline.”
Co-owner and CEO
Formerly one of Asia’s top video editors and co-founder of Blackmagic Design — a company that creates broadcast equipment, state-of-the-art video software and digital cinema cameras — Peter Barber joined ComCrop in 2017 as co-owner and CEO.
With his business savvy, strategic acumen and keen eye for production, Peter has led Singapore’s pioneering rooftop hydroponics farm from strength to strength, and helped to usher ComCrop’s pesticide-free produce onto supermarket shelves across the island.
ComCrop’s indefatigable CEO Peter Barber shares insights on what it takes to be a grower in Singapore.
You have to be willing to be an entrepreneur — to try new things and not be afraid to fail. This is especially true with agriculture in Singapore, where you have to embrace, invent or modify new technologies.
As a grower, a good educational background in science and IT certainly helps, but one shouldn’t be too focused on mining data — You have to be able to produce something before you can count it!
The most rewarding part of being a farmer or a grower in general is the appreciation one gets — When someone comes up and appreciates that you’re giving them food, and you’ve worked so hard to grow it.
Food quality is so important to longevity and health, and being able to give that to someone makes it all worth it.
What I’ve noticed is that growing crops in Singapore is still seen as being a bit hipster. But it’s not like farmers wake up in the morning and go tickle chickens — we’re in the food production business!
People need to see farming as a respectable job done by smart people who need to understand science in order to grow food. It shouldn’t ever be seen as “I didn’t do well in school, so I chose to become a grower.”
The ‘30 by 30’ target is a very good start, but we need to aim higher — ComCrop is currently aiming at 20 tonnes a year with this current greenhouse, and we plan for that to grow to over 220 tonnes by the end of 2021 with the addition of our new hybrid greenhouses. I’m sure other Singapore farmers are making similar improvements.
In my view, Singapore needs to be so cost-effective at producing vegetables that we can become an exporter. That secures our [food] supply during global disruptions like COVID-19, because all that food can then stay here instead.
We need to become the Holland of Asia by tapping on our technology, know-how and people. If we do this well, we’ll feed both ourselves and the world!
“You can only run a business if you can do every single job,” Peter shares. “It’s all about discipline and making sure we produce our best every single delivery.” Besides communicating with key contacts and partners in the industry, Peter has to keep his eye on the long-term goals of the company, while keeping the farm running like a well-oiled machine.
Just some facets of the indefatigable CEO’s job scope includes managing his passionate team of growers, planning for the growth of the business and overseeing the construction of more rooftop greenhouses that will provide over 2,000 square-metres of controlled environment growing space.
Peter shares his thoughts on the adaptability, discipline and acumen needed to succeed as a farmer in Singapore.
In Peter’s view, keeping local produce price-competitive is key while Singapore ramps up urban food production. A farm’s cost and structure are key considerations, particularly when selling popular vegetables like chye sim and bak choy.
According to Peter, farming is a team effort that requires a precise demarcation of job scopes. Various components of the business — from growing and packing to sales — requires every team member to have a laser-like focus on the tasks that they specialise in.
While ComCrop has tapped on expert agricultural insight from all over the globe, much of the technology has to be adapted to suit Singapore’s environment. In Peter’s estimation, around 20% of ComCrop’s operations have been adapted towards factors like local humidity, temperature and sunlight.
ComCrop’s pesticide-free herbs and vegetables can be found on RedMart and at FairPrice Finest. In addition, do check out ComCrop’s vegetable growing showcase at FairPrice Xtra (VivoCity). Visit their website to pre-order their Signature Fresh Pesto.
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