Times changing for Hills orchards

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Consumers can expect to see more stone and less pome fruit coming out of the Karragullen district in coming years, according to the Hills Orchard Improvement Group (HOIG).

The Ghilarducci family, of Pickering Brook, is among many preparing to transform their enterprises from pome fruit to stone fruit.

Steve Ghilarducci, who runs Granville Holdings with sons Andrew, Chris and Wayne, said climatic conditions and high storage costs prompted the change.

"We are predominantly apple growers but we grow stone fruit, and we are changing more to stone fruit now," he said.

"Because of the warming climate we are finding certain apple varieties harder to grow.

"The biggest problem with apples is you have to store certain varieties for up to seven months, which incurs costs."

A third-generation fruit grower, Steve said the situation was a lot different now from when his family first settled in the area in the 1930s.

"My dad said he had plenty of water and the rainfall was reliable but these days you just don't know," he said.

This season Steve said he was well under the rainfall average but he would get by. Heavy rain in early August, when up to 37mm fell across the orchards, revived the property.

Steve said in the next five years he would convert his orchard from 70 per cent apples and 30 per cent stone fruit to a 70:30 stone fruit, apple mix.

The Ghilarduccis are trialling more than 70 stone fruit varieties through a partnership with Californian breeders.

The trial site, run through the HOIG, was established on the Ghilarducci property last year.

HOIG president Bruno Delsimone said the partnership with Californian breeders provided an invaluable information source for local growers.

"Ninety per cent of Australian stone fruit is bred in California, and it takes up to five years for Californian varieties to be released in Australia," Mr Delsimone said.

"In the past, Californian breeders would send what they considered would be ideal over but it might not have been suited. Now we are viewing them on the tree so we can fast-track our selections."

Mr Delsimone said that in the past 15 years, pome fruit production in the Karragullen district had halved.

"The people who are solely apple and pear growers will remain so but people who have got a bit of both will go stone fruit," he said.

More than 20 growers from the HOIG visited California earlier this year to see the stone fruit varieties in their natural environment.

Mr Delsimone said this was an invaluable experience for growers because it would assist in their varietal selection.

Last year Steve and Chris went on the Californian orchard tour where they learnt about varieties that could be grown on their property.

Chris runs the family orchard and last year won the Young Orchardist of the Year award at Karragullen Expo. Steve's son, Wayne, is in charge of the packing shed and Andrew operates the transport.

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