Im­ported fruit hurts lo­cal grape pro­ducer

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

WITH pro­duc­tion costs up due to the drought, a Cen­tral Queens­land grape pro­ducer is find­ing it hard to com­pete against im­ported fruit.

Paul Wort­ley man­ages the 400 hectare sec­tion of Ever­green Farms where they grow Menindee Seed­less and Flame Seed­less grapes.

It’s part of a 5000ha ag­gre­ga­tion at Emer­ald, de­scribed as one of Aus­tralia’s largest hor­ti­cul­tural op­er­a­tions, which also in­cludes 29ha of ly­chees.

They sup­ply their pro­duce to Coles, Wool­worths, Aldi and IGA.

“We’ve no­ticed our sales have taken off very slowly, whereas in the past the de­mand would have been higher,” he said.

“It does hurt, but you can’t blame the con­sumer, a large por­tion of peo­ple have to shop for what funds they have avail­able and if that means buy­ing cheaper im­ported fruit, that’s just a fact of life, we can’t do any­thing about it.

“We dearly wish we could grow pro­duce at a cheaper cost, if labour and elec­tric­ity were cheaper.

“And be­ing an early (pick­ing) area, we can­not com­pete with later ar­eas in pro­duc­tion lev­els.

“Be­cause we have higher costs, we need a higher re­turn for our fruit.”

Mr Wort­ley said they run a lean op­er­a­tion with the price of elec­tric­ity hit­ting their hip-pocket.

“We’ve re­cently up­graded our pump­ing sta­tions to try and re­duce costs,” he said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, ir­ri­ga­tion is one of those ar­eas where there’s not a lot to be saved, re­gard­less of the sys­tem, it costs a cer­tain amount of money to get wa­ter onto the plants.

“With the up­grade we are try­ing to re­duce the im­pact on peak de­mands, which af­fects the tar­iffs, so by do­ing that we’re hop­ing to avoid the next big price hike.”

Mr Wort­ley said he en­joyed the chal­lenge that came with grow­ing in a hot­ter cli­mate.

“We nor­mally have a warmer win­ter than the places where grapes are tra­di­tion­ally grown,” he said.

“Like many other fruits they need a cer­tain amount of chilling in the win­ter and a bit of frost to re­lease bugs from dor­mancy.

“The ad­van­tage of a late win­ter is early ma­tu­rity and ac­cel­er­ated spring growth.”

He said the dry con­di­tions also had an im­pact on the grapevines.

“When there’s a lot of wind we can find a bit of scar­ring on the grapes,” he said.

“This year we have had to ir­ri­gate a lot more as well which costs us more in pro­duc­tion.

“We usu­ally have quite a good crop, but with the con­di­tions, it’s look­ing about av­er­age.”

Mr Wort­ley said the ly­chees are all hand-picked.

“On av­er­age we pick ap­prox­i­mately 30 kilo­grams per tree, but it can vary be­tween 20 or 45 and that comes from 6000 trees,” he said.

Un­like the grapes, he said there isn’t a great deal of com­pe­ti­tion.

“They aren’t a fruit that ex­ports par­tic­u­larly well so we don’t re­ally have to worry about im­ported ly­chees,” he said.

Mr Wort­ley said the ly­chees were also an easy crop to look af­ter, with the cur­rent crop in the ground for 15 years.

“They get pruned ev­ery year af­ter pick­ing, we do or­chard floor man­age­ment by keep­ing the weeds un­der con­trol,” he said.

“They don’t have a high de­mand for fer­tiliser or pes­ti­cides.

“They took about four years of grow­ing to get rea­son­able pro­duc­tion out of them.

“I think the life of a tree is de­ter­mined by the de­mand for the va­ri­ety, which comes down to eat­ing plea­sure.

“Some of the fruit have very large seeds, so peo­ple might want a smaller one for more flesh, it makes them more ap­peal­ing to eat.”

STAY­ING POS­I­TIVE: Ever­green Farms man­ager Paul Wort­ley said he is feel­ing good about the 2018 grape sea­son. PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

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