Markets complement Woolies deal

Ann RawlingsCountryman

From the first pear tree planted in 1989, Jarrahdale orchard Valle Verde has blossomed into a successful business.

Second-generation orchardist Tony Ricupero is proud of his family's history as growers in the Perth Hills, a history that started in 1984 when his father, Cosimo, bought a 56ha bush-covered block with an idea to grow tomatoes.

"My dad was a tomato grower when he stared and then a lot of overseas workers came over and started growing tomatoes. It wasn't viable any more," the major Karragullen Expoo sponsor said.

"The first tree he planted was in 1989. It was a pear tree. Compared to that time, things are now very different - it's a lot more hands-on."

Tony said when he was young he used to love working on the farm with his "old man", and his passion for growing fresh produce has never waned.

It is something he is keen to share with the next generation and believes Karragullen Expo is an opportunity to attract young people to the industry.

"We want to promote this industry to the next generation, so young people stay involved in the business," he said, adding that Karragullen Expo was a chance for people to see what a career in horticulture was really about.

He said the event was also an opportunity to promote locally grown produce.

For Tony, who manages the orchard with his father Cosimo and uncle Domenico Mammone, there is no greater satisfaction than hearing customers say they enjoy eating Valle Verde produce.

"I'm happy when people buy my produce and they come back and say it's fresh," he said.

In addition to a lucrative deal selling direct to supermarket chain Woolworths, the family sells fruit and vegetables every Sunday at Midland Market.

"I got an email from Woolworths at the beginning of the season saying we ticked all the boxes for our nectarines in terms of size, looks and flavour - you don't get that every day," Tony said.

"When my customers are happy, that's what gives me the drive. I'm producing something and people are enjoying it."

Word of mouth and a reputation for quality helped the family to secure a supply contract with Woolworths more than 15 years ago - a relationship Tony said was getting stronger every year.

Valle Verde supplies the supermarket chain with a range of fruit and vegetables, including stone fruit, apples, pears, watermelon, butternut pumpkins and capsicums.

Having the relationship with Woolworths allows Tony to have a certain amount of control over prices.

"Whatever I pack or put on the truck, I know what (price) I'm getting," he said.

"You take it to the markets, you can only hope to get what you want. It all comes down to quality. If the quality's there, the stuff sells."

While there may be challenges on the horizon for the industry, Tony said it was important to stay positive.

"You have to stay one step ahead all the time," he said. "If they do ban fenthion then we are in trouble. We'll have to look into other avenues to keep fruit fly down - there'll have to be a lot more baiting.

"I've got a product that people enjoy and so I can't change it, and there isn't a fruit that is bullet-proof against fruit fly. The only fruit that won't get fruit fly is manufactured out of plastic."

Having a wide range of produce has contributed to the success of the business, as has adopting modern practices such as GPS technology, which has helped to cut costs and increase production.

Improvements such as black mulch and T-tape - drip-irrigation tape - have helped reduce water usage.

Up to 30 fruit pickers work on the property in the season, mainly comprising backpackers.

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