Cherry and apple farming: Fiona and Bernard Hall from Orange grow for the future
INVESTING in new technology and developing a branding and marketing strategy have allowed Fiona and Bernard Hall to grow their cherry and apple business.
This is despite significant industry contraction in their district and declining domestic apple consumption.
The couple are the owners of Caernarvon Cherry Co at Orange, in central west NSW, a cherry growing, packing and marketing operation, and the co-owners of Bonny Glen Fruits, along with Bernard’s brother, Tim Hall, growing and marketing apples.
Both the apples and cherries are sold under the BiteRiot brand.
While the apple orchard has been established for two generations, Fiona and Bernard only began growing cherries in 2000.
Across their five orchards they now produce 368,000 tonnes of apples a year and handle between 1000 and 1500 tonnes of cherries, about 8 per cent of the Australian crop.
They became the first cherry producers in NSW to install an optical sorting cherry grader four years ago, giving them a point of difference and a marketing advantage.
The cherry grader robotically removes blemished and soft fruit and sorts colour and size. It takes 10 photos of each cherry and has accuracy within 0.2mm.
Now, they grade, pack and market cherries under the BiteRiot brand for 20 other growers around Orange and from Griffith, Mudgee, Wellington and Millthorpe.
It means Caernarvon has been able to improve economies of scale, minimise risk and supply cherries to larger domestic and export markets.
FIONA, a Nuffield scholar, said there was demand for cherries throughout South East Asia, but Australia still had a lot of work to gain more market access.
With cherry production in Australia rising to 18,000 tonnes , rom 12,000 tonnes in the past few years, Fiona said too much was produced for the domestic market, making access to export more important.
President of the NSW Cherry Growers Association, Fiona said they were working with the Federal Government to try and get export access to places such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Korea.
“We can have cherries picked, packed and landed in South East Asia in 48 hours … Chile is our biggest competitor in cherries and they have to send theirs by sea freight,” Fiona said.
Cherries are all picked by hand and harvested from early December to mid-January.
The main varieties grown are lapins, sweet hearts, regina, and klaudia.
ONCE picked, the cherries are hydro-cooled at 0-1C for 12 minutes to get the temperature down, then they are moved in to a cool room, which prolongs their shelf life.
After being graded, the cherries are packed in boxes or grab-and-go bags with 50 per cent sent to supermarkets, including Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and independent green grocers. The remaining 50 per cent is exported by airfreight to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The pack-out rate the Halls aim for with the cherries is 75 to 80 per cent at 26mm or larger.
Secondary-grade fruit is used to make 100 per cent BiteRiot cherry juice.
At an elevation of 1100m, Fiona said they were in the best place to grow apples.
The cold winter helps fruit bud set and cold nights help the colour, although the Halls admitted a high summer rainfall put the cherries more at risk.
The main apple varieties grown are gala, fuji, kanzi and pink lady, which are all hand-picked from February to May and graded in their own packing shed with a pack-out rate of about 60-70 per cent.
APPLES are sold through Woolworths, Harris Farm, IGA and some independent supermarkets and via wholesalers in to Queensland.
Second-grade apples are sent to a juice co-operative in Orange. Fiona said they were looking to export apples as there was an oversupply and a declining consumption rate domestically.
Apples and cherries are drip-irrigated and fertigation is also done through this system.
About 90 per cent of the orchards are covered in hail nets, which also protects the trees from bats and birds.
The Halls aim for a biological approach and use as little pesticide as possible to protect the environment and save costs.
They employ 16 permanent staff, with extras at picking time. During cherry picking and packing, they can have an extra 300 people employed, which means they rely heavily on backpackers.
Source: http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au Author: NICOLA BELL, The Weekly Times