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Fruits of the river

Lauren CelenzaCountryman
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For nearly 30 years, Phil Frzop has been enjoying the fruits of his labour by the Gascoyne River.

On 14.5 hectares of irrigated land in Carnarvon, Mr Frzop has a dig at a wide variety of crops, including capsicums, eggplant and pumpkins — he once grew chillies and his fruit passion lies mostly with melons.

“I moved up from Perth when I saw an opportunity to live and work next to the Gascoyne River, ” he said.

Over the years, Mr Frzop has grown an array of fruits, including bananas and avocados, but he said market forces drove him to grow vegetables mainly.

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“Agriculture is always risky, but I’m comfortable with vegies, ” he said.

“We have a lot of issues with unskilled labour, and the cost of it means we have to look at products that require less handling.

“We stopped growing chillies because they require too much intensive labour and we used to also grow a lot of zucchinis, but got out of them because they need labour seven days a week and this year zucchinis were at record prices.”

Growing for the LoveApple group, most of Mr Frzop’s produce goes to Woolworths.

“Our produce goes to WA markets and if there is a need some will be exported, ” he said.

“This year we sold our red and green capsicums to Woolies and will be selling rockmelons to them later on.”

Mr Frzop said the Herdsman Growers Market had also started buying some of their top quality produce.

“They don’t mind paying more for the better quality, ” he said.

Although fruitful, many agricultural undertakings have their challenges and Mr Frzop said there was always another one lurking around the corner.

“There’s always challenge in this industry — either demand is low and prices are down or there’s often gluts or shortages, ” he said.

“There are plenty of gluts, but that’s farming.”

Mr Frzop said a rockmelon surplus last year had sales at $10 a tray, well below the cost of production.

“You don’t make any money on that, so we just stop harvesting when that happens and leave it, ” he said.

“By the time you pay $2 for your tray and another couple for packing and then freight, you make $3, and you have to take your commission out, so you’re down to zero.”

Unfortunately, the same thing happened with watermelons this year when the South West had a bumper start to the season.

Mr Frzop said the price fell to about 40c a kilo which was devastating after he bought $10,000 worth of seed for the crop.

“The frustration from 40c sales is the marketer takes his commission, leaving 33c, then you pay for freight and bins, ” he said.

“After that I just picked up enough to cover the cost of the seed and left the rest, ” he said.

“It’s hard because we just have no idea what everyone else is producing.”

Mr Frzop said when interstate red capsicums came into the market early this year, the price was pushed down to $2/kg.

“I don’t even sell my green caps at $2/kg, and when you wait another month for them to change colour to red, it’s just not worth it, ” he said.

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