Melon punt bears fruit

Claire TyrrellCountryman

The Metcalfe family took a gamble when they started their horticulture venture in Greenough, but the risk has paid off.

Carol and Brett Metcalfe run Coastal Plains Produce, about 38km south of Geraldton.

Their property lies between vast stretches of broadacre farms.

Brett came to the area in 1992 after working for a rock melon grower in Carnarvon.

Carol said rock melons ripened earlier in Greenough than tropical environments.

“We could see there was an opportunity to grow melons for the Christmas market, with a price benefit at that time, ” she said.

The Metcalfes started picking in mid-December year and received high prices for their first few loads of melons.

“Prices were very good just before Chirstmas when we got about $32 to $34 a tray, ” Carol said.

“Part of that was because Carnarvon was hit and also because there were not many melons down south.”

Prices have dropped back to about $12 to $16 a tray, which is the price on which the Metcalfes budget.

Carol said the farm’s close proximity to the coast was an advantage for preventing sun damage.

“The good thing about our position here is that we have the cooling winds and early sea breezes, ” she said.

“If we weren’t so close to the coast we would lose a lot of melons to sun burn.”

She said the soil type was similar to soil in the Kimberley — heavy clay suitable for cropping.

Pests are the biggest issue for the Metcalfes. They need to take several measures to combat crop-destroying insects.

“Our main issues have been with white fly and aphids, ” Carol said.

“We’ve got to keep the paddocks clean otherwise we would have a problem with snails on radish.”

The family stopped growing legume crops in rotation with their melons because they had problems with slaters feeding on the dry trash.

When the paddocks aren’t seeded to melons, Brett and Carol usually put in a wheat crop.

Carol said she had to reseed a lot of melons this year because the cold October meant some plants failed to germinate.

“Our first planting was done by a machine and we had to go back and replant some seeds by hand this year, ” she said. “When we reseed it means we are picking for a longer period of time in the same patch.”

The Metcalfes also keep bees on their farm to pollenate the rock melons.

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