Ray Hick of Bangalow’s Heavenly Valley Farms has good reason to be happy; local stonefruit growers enjoyed a bumper season in 2009 after hail and frost badly affected crops for two years.
Ray Hick of Bangalow’s Heavenly Valley Farms has good reason to be happy; local stonefruit growers enjoyed a bumper season in 2009 after hail and frost badly affected crops for two years. David Nielsen

Local stonefruit growers chill out

PEACH and nectarine growers in the region marked the end of the season with an annual general meeting of the Low Chill Australia group on Thursday in Bangalow.

The harvest this year had been a good one, said president Ray Hick, who owns Heavenly Valley Farms on the Pacific Highway near Bangalow.

The weather treated growers more kindly this year, with no severe hail or severe frosts.

“We had heavy rains in early November, which caused one variety of fruit to break down and we lost perhaps between 500 and 1000 trays,” Mr Hick said.

“But from a total of 350,000 trays in the Northern Rivers, that’s not too bad.”

And while the earlier dry months had affected size a little, the quality was very high, he said.

“The sugar content was up, so they made very good eating,” he said.

“We had very good feedback from the market, and the repeat buying was much better than previous years.”

As well as the season’s wrap-up, the meeting discussed the conference planned for Ballina at the end of 2010, under the banner ‘Opportunities from Adversity’, as well as the impending importation of fruit from the United States.

The association is urging the Australian government to take adequate steps to safeguard the local industry from bugs and pests coming in and threatening crops here.

Low chill refers to the number of hours that stonefruit trees need to be exposed to temperatures of two degrees.

Low chill varieties ‘don’t need a lot of chill’, Mr Hick said, about 150 to 350 hours every year, which they are easily able to achieve in the hinterland.

There are 25 to 30 growers in the Bangalow/Alstonville area, supplying fruit to retailers from Brisbane to Adelaide, as well as the local area. Their crop earns between $8 million and $10 million a year, Mr Hick said.

The local growers also employ up to 200 people for about three months every season, ‘15 hours a day, seven days a week’.

Very few Australians were willing to take on the work, Mr Hick said, but young backpackers were only too happy to earn some extra travelling money.



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