SNOWLINE Fruits owner Henry Hilton has managed to produce good quality apples despite the extremities of weather that has hit North East orchardists over the past year.
NORTH East orchardists have reported a mixed bag fruit harvest this season with an average apple and pear crop predicted following extreme heat in January.
Stanley’s Snowline Fruits’ grower Henry Hilton said that despite the extremities of weather experienced by all in the North East, his apples were “quite reasonable” and demand was strong.
“We have been picking for a while now, and generally it is quite a reasonable season,” Mr Hilton said.
“But that’s just my personal experience.
“There are a whole heap of other producers that wouldn’t say that.
“Some of the apples got badly burnt, but most of mine are covered by hail nets and that has seemed to help.
“It has been a weird season in that we have had minus three and minus four degrees Celsius and had frosts and we have recently had 40 degrees plus weather.
“But the quality and color are good and so are the sugar levels.
“Someone who has an orchard out in the open air may say differently, but it is still very dry and we do have water.”
Apple & Pear Australia Limited (APAL) chief executive officer John Dollisson said the crop for this year was “average” across Australia.
“The 2014 crop will be an average crop, with early season fruit – Gala, Granny Smith and Fuji – size down as a consequence of the heat in January, and similarly with pear,” Mr Dollison said.
“While the maximum size fruit of the best years will not be reached, the quality is good.
“The situation is pretty much the same across the country.”
Stanley husband-andwife team Henry and Rita Hilton have been farming together since 1980.
Born and bred in Kent, one of the English “apple counties”, Mr Hilton completed his horticultural studies in the United Kingdom after growing up on an orchard.
He then travelled the world “just to sort of get a bit of experience”.
He originally worked for Nightingales Orchards for 25 years before purchasing his 14-hectare (35acre) orchard in Stanley where he has lived for the past 40 years.
The Hiltons run a very successful farm shop at their orchard and sell about 30 per cent of their production direct to the public.
They also deliver their produce of apples, stone fruit, berries and chestnuts across North East Victoria and southern New South Wales.
One of their most important markets is the Albury-Wodonga Farmers’ Market where they can meet and talk with potential and existing customers.
The Hiltons started their business by supplying to main markets, but in 2002 their orchard was wiped out and they were unable to supply any fruit until the following year where they started to sell their fruit at farmers markets.
They then built their own farm shop selling their Pink Lady, Red Fuji and Royal Gala varieties of apples, having just added an American variety, Honey Crisp, which has proved very popular with customers.
“We sell a lot to farmers markets and to retail outlets in Albury Wodonga and across North East Victoria,” Mr Hilton said.
“We also sell into the main system, but that doesn’t really pay us the cash.
“It’s actually becoming too expensive in Australia to do business, particularly with apples as they are expensive to grow and it is hard to recover costs.
“And unfortunately the supermarkets just don’t want to meet in the middle when it comes to pricing.
“It’s actually becoming ridiculous because what the consumers want and what the supermarkets are demanding are two different things.
“The supermarkets just want what makes them money.
“But growing fruit is a long-term commitment and you need a good area to grow it in.”
The recently announced $70 million, five-year deal between SPC Ardmona (SPCA) and Woolworths has been welcomed by the Hiltons and those in the Goulburn Valley.
The partnership will ensure an extra 24,000 tonnes of fruit, tomatoes and navy beans are sourced locally for the last remaining Australian-owned fruit and vegetable processor.
Additional volume generated as a result of the new partnership will require the equivalent of 86,000 fruit trees in the Goulburn Valley.
The agreement will also triple the tonnage over the next five years of Australian grown tomatoes that SPCA supplies to Woolworths, with a new range of Woolworths Select and SPC Canned Tomatoes available in stores in October.
From 2015, SPCA will begin supplying all fruit for Woolworths Select fruit snacks and jelly snacks, and for the next five years, will continue to supply 100 per cent of fruit for the supermarket’s multi-serve fruit range.
Owner of Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth, Ben Kraus – who brews apple cider once or twice per year in the brewery’s 150 year old coach house – said that he has had to go elsewhere for his apples this year after the orchard he received his apples from last year was “smashed with frost”.
The extremities of weather has affected different orchards in different ways, with Mr Kraus able to source his apples from a different local supplier.
“We hope to use cider apple varieties when we can access them, but the farm we got them from last season has zero crop this year,” Mr Kraus said.
“This year we will go to Christesens where we are actually able to make it there too as they have an apple crushing and pressing facility that they purchased from an Austrian manufacturer.
“We will then bring the juice into the brewery and ferment and process it from there.”
Bridge Road Brewers makes about 10,000 litres of cider per year with most of its product being sold at its Beechworth venue and a few selected outlets locally.
Bridge Road has grown to become one of the most recognised craft breweries for its beer in the country, with its cider tasting “quite different” to other main-