On the harvest trail

Lauren CelenzaCountryman

Farmers Jim Walker and Stephanie Carstairs grow just about everything on their Manjimup property.

With 100 hectares dedicated to sheep and cattle, 15 hectares of apple trees, three hectares of avocados, 400 truffle spore-inoculated hazelnut and acorn trees and a Wilti Poll stud, it’s hard to imagine they have time for much else.

Jim and Stephanie started harvesting their apples in February, and they expect to finish near the end of May.

They first harvested about 60 tonnes of Royal Gala, followed by 140 tonnes of High Early.

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Currently in the middle of harvesting Fujis, they have also started to pick Granny Smiths, and will finish with Pink Ladies.

Jim said the hot and dry weather had reduced Fuji yields by about 40 per cent.

“The fruit set was good but the hot and dry weather unfortunately burnt some of the fruit,” Jim said.

“We ended up with about 48 tonnes of Fuji apples.”

Apple harvest is usually a long slog for the couple, but this year’s lower yields meant they could have an Easter break with their children, Thea,10, Millie, 7, and Thomas, 6.

Aside from apples, the couple planted hazelnut and acorn trees with truffle spore-inoculated roots two years ago.

The lucrative fungi is expected to start producing about seven years after implementation.

Stephanie said she was excited about the possibility of harvesting truffles in five years.

At around $3000 a kilo, Jim and Stephanie said it was worth the wait.

“Hopefully, we can retire on them,” Stephanie said.

Jim, a third-generation Manjimup farmer, has been growing apples since the age of 17, but he grew up tending to a mix of fruit, vegetables, cattle and sheep. “We got out of sheep in the late 1980s when prices dropped,” he said.

When apple prices dipped several years ago, Jim and Stephanie decided to get back into sheep to help with cash-flow.

“We have gone back into sheep and they go hand-in-hand with orcharding, because they eat the weeds between the rows,” Jim said.

In addition, a portion of their 800 avocado trees will come into production this summer, and the remainder will follow over the next three years.

Stephanie said the avocados were a low-maintenance crop.

“Apples are good too, but they are a lot of work. When we get older, the avocados will be easier to work on,” she said.

“We will always have apples, because it’s such a good apple growing area, but we will just bring them back to a manageable level.”

The couple are building up their Wilti Poll sheep stud and plan to produce Wiltshire Suffolk cross lambs for the domestic market.

They also have 60 Angus cows, which Jim said was his favourite aspect of the farm, because the herd was “low maintenance”.

Stephanie said growing lucerne in the rows between the avocado trees had made feeding livestock easier.

“Last year when it was really dry, we had our own hay so our feeding costs didn’t go up,” Stephanie said.

“This year, dams are close to empty, which is a first for us.”

Stephanie said apples were their “cash cow”.

“They are the main earner but you need to employ people all-year round,” she said.

“It’s getting harder, because labour costs are huge.

“This year’s returns have been good, despite costs, because of the lack of fruit coming in from the eastern states — but it won’t hold.

“As soon as we get a good crop, prices will be back to what they were last year; last year, some varieties cost us money.”

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