Quality to the core

Kim CousinsCountryman

Lucinda Giblett, with her father Harvey, sister Nic and 60 core staff have helped build Newton Brothers Orchards in Manjimup to one of the most respected fruit producers in the country.

Apples are the bread and butter crop for the business, with pears, cherries, apricots and plums also grown across the three orchards - totalling about 166 hectares - and other leased properties in the area.

"We grow enough apples to feed every one in our shire an apple a day," Lucinda said.

"Since 2000, dad has basically trebled the business. He invested $2 million in a new state-of-the-art packing line - the pack house was bulging at the seams."

It's a long way from the first cold stores built on the orchard in the 1940s. The packing line, which also packs fruit for other local growers, now features a high-tech sorting machine which grades the apples based on colour and size, detecting any defects.

"It's all done by water and suction," Lucinda said. "Not a single apple is bruised and the water is recycled.

"There are only three in Australia - this is the only one in WA."

The machine comes in handy for packing the more than 5000 tonnes of apples grown by Newton Brothers Orchards, which sells 10-12 varieties of fruit directly to Coles, Woolworths and IGA, as well as specialist outlets like Herdsman Fresh in Perth.

Another machine was installed recently to pack apples into punnets.

Lucinda, 2012 Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Women's Award runner up, is busy juggling duties as communications officer for Newton Brothers Orchards with the set up of her charity, Stellar Violets.

After a few years focusing on education and travel, she returned to the orchard the day her father decided it was time to introduce an organic section of the business.

"I'm really passionate about organics," Lucinda said. "We know there is a decline in fossil fuels, we need to have a cradle-to-cradle system."

Lucinda wasn't sure what to think when her dad said he was getting into organics.

"Dad attended a workshop in 2008 on organic farming in Shepparton (Victoria) and he was convinced it was something he had to try.

"I was quite surprised, he's been an orchardist for more than 40 years but has always had the dream of being a broadacre farmer."

Varieties planted in the 40ha organic area of the orchard include Jazz, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith and Pink Lady.

"We're becoming certified with ACO (Australia Certified Organic) next year, it's a three-year process."

The hardest aspect of organics so far has been weed control - kike is the biggest challenge.

"It competes with the trees. We tried a steam weeder, guys with whippersnippers and sheep, but they damaged the trees," Lucinda said.

Lucinda and the organic orchard manager have set to work on setting up a heritage orchard, full of varieties no longer grown everyday.

"It's for heritage and genetic breeding," she said. "You never know when you'll need them."

Making the list are old favourites Yate, Jonathon and Williams, along with Cleo, Bramley and Lalla, the original golden delicious. Cider apples are also on the agenda, although there are no plans to start brewing.

The conventionally farmed section of the orchard covers 62.5ha and grows a wide range of apples - Jazz, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Hi Early, Greenstar, Enchanted and Kanzi. It's also where Harvey's own breed, Pirup Pride, is grown.

"It was a sport, a genetic mutation off a Gala," Lucinda said. "It's really a niche apple. There's not much of it but it's exciting to have it."

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