Article •  5/6/2024

WA’s Zeke Zalsman wins Young Grower of the Year

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An innovative young farmer with a passion for industry sustainability and consistently delivering a high-quality product to consumers has claimed the 2024 Corteva Agriscience Young Grower of the Year.

Announced at the Horticulture Awards for Excellence at Hort Connections in Melbourne, Zeke Zalsman from Oldbury, Western Australia, was recognised for his commitment to sustainability and a zest for innovation that has propelled him into new ventures.

Corteva Agriscience Young Grower of the Year Award winner, Zeke Zalsman, and Corteva Agriscience Marketing Manager, Nick Koch.
Corteva Agriscience Young Grower of the Year Award winner, Zeke Zalsman, and Corteva Agriscience Marketing Manager, Nick Koch.

Zeke is the second generation to be at the helm of his family’s business, Zaldeesh Farms, which specialises in the production of capsicums and eggplants, as well as growing pomegranates using wastewater from the greenhouses.

Since returning to the business five years ago, the 32-year-old has developed the operation to where it is today via a trial-and-error approach.

“My parents started over 30 years ago as field growers, and over time we’ve built greenhouses and learnt the different features we need for our unique Perth climate,” Zeke said.

“In the summer, we get very extreme UV and extreme heat, and then when you come into winter, it gets quite cold and there’s not a heap of light hours.

“Capsicums are quite a delicate plant, and in the field the growing window is quite limited.”

Today, they account for these challenges through high-tech greenhouses with heating and cooling capabilities, shade screens that are automatically controlled based on radiation levels, and a computer-operated CO2 system. 

Innovation at the forefront

Not afraid to be the first person to try something different, even if there are risks involved, Zeke was the first grower in the country to commercially adopt heat pump technology for greenhouse heating, resulting in cost reductions and an increase in production and quality.

“We had been circulating water through pipes heated by LPG to keep optimum temperatures during the night and winter, but the cost increases meant we had to start running the greenhouses at a lower heating capacity,” he said.

The lost production, reduced quality and increase in disease prompted Zeke to look at new research for greenhouse heating, and a piece of promising technology being adopted in Europe held the key.

Heat pumps are a relatively new, highly efficient technology that is seen more commonly in industrial hot water applications, such as heating public swimming pools and hotel hot water.

Using the environment as a heat source, such as residual atmospheric heat, it is capable of producing more energy than it consumes.

Zeke said the results were incredible, and the technology had allowed him to improve the quality of his product while reducing energy costs by 25%.

Wins and losses all part of the process

Asked where his innovative mentality came from, Zeke put it down to natural curiosity.

“My dad’s always had a bit of a restless mind and I think I’m probably a bit similar to him,” Zeke said.

“Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad; you get distracted by things and go wandering, and if you see something that could be better, you work out what to do.

“We can also get easily excited by new things.”

There’s been some “definite failures”, but those too were learning opportunities.

“In the past five years, I don’t think there’s been two years in a row where we’ve done completely the same thing,” Zeke said.

“We’ve tried diversifying with different crops and while it’s not necessarily worked for us, we might have learnt something about how to manage or get the best use of our technology by growing another crop that needs something different than capsicums do.

“We’ve not necessarily stuck with that crop, but we have been able to bring what we’ve learnt from that back into the capsicum growing.” 

A true eating experience

Despite Zeke’s pioneering nature and willingness to try new things, what drives him is far simpler.

“I like producing a product that people can enjoy, and we’re really just trying to get that product as good as we can,” he said.

It’s a far cry from the kid who “never paid too much attention to the farm growing up” and did a finance and economics degree at university.

“I worked in a bank for a few years and didn’t get much joy out of that,” Zeke said.

“To me, in that job, there was nothing material at the end of it and I had the feeling that if I wasn’t there, the world would just go on and nothing would change.

“With this, we have our product and if we were to stop, there would be a hole in the supply.”

Beyond improving the quality of their products, Zeke’s goal is to upscale their operation to ensure consistency of supply.

“We still have gaps in our winter supply, where we’re quite low in volume.

“I’d like it to get to a point where we have a very good supply across the entire season, and eliminate or reduce the need for product to come in from New Zealand.

“It would be nice to be able to supply enough to enable WA to be fully local.”

Praised for contribution to industry

Recognising Zeke’s efforts to improve the profitability and sustainability of not only his own business, but the wider protected cropping sector, Corteva Agriscience Marketing Manager, Nick Koch, said Zeke was an inspiring young leader for the industry.

“Zeke should be congratulated for his pioneering efforts to increase the accessibility of a technology capable of future-proofing protected cropping businesses against rising costs, carbon footprint and threats to social licence,” Mr Koch said.

“We are proud to support young growers like Zeke and celebrate all the nominees for the Young Grower of the Year.”


Media enquiries:

Matt Wordsworth

0404 029 241

Young Grower of the Year

Corteva Agricience are proud sponsors of the annual Hort Innovations Young Grower of the Year award, highlighting the breadth of young horticulture talent in Australia. Meet the nominees and past participants.

2024 Young Grower of the Year


2024 Young Grower of the Year, Zeke Zalsman from Oldbury, Western Australia, was recognised for his commitment to sustainability and a zest for innovation that has propelled him into new ventures.

Meet all the Nominees
Xavier Toohey 2021 winner

Past Nominees

Corteva has been a proud sponsor of the AUSVEG Young Grower of the Year award since 2018. See the long list of talented alumni who have vied for the prestigious title.

Meet Past Nominees