10 of our best
WHEN it comes to apples, Michael Cunial says he produces fine fruit but his aim is to grow and sell premium apples for a premium price.
It’s all part of his five-year-plan which has entailed a large re-investment in new rootstock to produce “red” apples – the popular choice that also tastes like apples.
As well as battling with supermarkets – his main customers – and their preference for redder fruit demanded by consumers, Mr Cunial has to do battle with the elements before packing anything into a bin.
Mother Nature throws not only weather against his family’s Carinya Orchards at Nashdale, nestled in the foothills of the extinct volcano, Mount Canobolas, on the outskirts of Orange, but also thousands of birds who look for a free feed as cherries come into season.
For these, the Cunial family has devised a new style of netting to withhold hail and uses traditional netting for bird protection from starlings and also smaller finches, “silver eyes”, which peck indiscriminately throughout bunches causing a lot of damage.
Hail netting has become a sideline business which helps offset the costs associated with the apple tree upgrade which Mr Cunial said was close to $70,000 a hectare.
Drape net (for cost-effective crop protection) has become an industry name since Mr Cunial’s initial trials on the family orchard some 11 years ago.
Carinya Orchards is now in its third generation of ownership since Antonio Cunial purchased the property with brother, Giuseppe, after arriving in Australia in 1948.
The orchard passed to Dino, Antonio’s son, and is now managed by Dino’s son Michael with his wife Kim and their two daughters, Abbey, 5, and Greta, 3.
Carinya’s size started at 20 hectares and has increased to 80ha of which 20ha is planted to six varieties of cherries and 60ha of apples of five varieties.
As part of the upgrade to grow newer genetics of the more popular Gala and Fuji varieties, Mr Cunial has pulled out many older types.
“We are planting newer ones and also grafting some,” he said.
“The newer strains are redder, the supermarkets like red apples and the new types are a full-coloured apple.”
Mr Cunial said the Orange region could grow red apples whereas Granny Smith apples were “hard to get right here”.
He said he was pulling all his Granny Smiths and replacing them with the red varieties.
“Grannies tend to like warmer growing conditions and this district can have cool weather followed by some hot weather with high UV which burns Grannies and we can also get ‘pink blush’ from the cool snaps,” he said.
Mr Cunial said Granny Smiths were green apples that bruised and showed lots of marks.
“The Victorians tend to grow them better so I’m happy to leave them to it.”
The change to red apples was simply because Mr Cunial could “see the writing on the wall” for lesser coloured fruit.
“The red strains were getting more money in the marketplace, so you must go with the flow,” he said.
“Taste has also come back into the selection process a little bit, but colour is always the initial first impression for looks.”
Now entering the third year of his redevelopment plan, Mr Cunial’s major changes have been his planting style at a higher density.
“We have almost doubled the old style of orcharding and planted 2500 trees per hectare,” he said.
The advantage of using more dwarfed rootstock is that it is less vigorous.
“You end up with more apple and less foliage per hectare and you don’t have to work as hard,” he said.
“It’s a newish system in Australia that more progressive orchards are going into – the results will start to come on in the next one to two years.”
By doubling the planting, he has doubled the amount of nursery as dwarfed rootstocks need to be supported by posts and wire.
“So we’re not getting much change out of $70,000 per hectare to get the new plantings established,” he said.
In normal years Carinya Orchards produce about 30,000 five kilogram boxes of cherries and about 250, 500kg bins of apples.
This year will be the lowest amount of apples marketed for 30 years because of the new plantings still to grow to full fruit bearing age.
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