North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - Front Page - By JODIE FLEM­ING

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-

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