Opportunity buds in orchard

Nashdale cherry grower in expansion mode

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Luke Cantrill says he'll plant another 4500 trees with the extra money he's to receive from Woolworths. Photo: Daniel Pedersen

Luke Cantrill says he'll plant another 4500 trees with the extra money he's to receive from Woolworths. Photo: Daniel Pedersen

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A grant from Woolworths will help Cantrill Organics plant another 4500 trees.

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A NASHDALE organic cherry growing operation will expand both its season and volume thanks to $170,000 from Woolworths.

Cantrill Organics proprietor Luke Cantrill (also on our cover with children Jack, 6, Alannah, 3, and Ava, 7) said he'll plant another 4500 trees next year with the grant.

He's already planted 1500 new trees this year at a 45-degree angle to be trained to a 3-metre tall frame.

The trees will be grown using the upright forming offshoot (UFO) method, which encourages multiple individual vertical stems to grow upright from the main angled stem.

The UFO system allows much greater density planting and better photosynthesis in the orchard.

Cantrill Organics traces its farming heritage in the Orange district back almost 170 years.

The Cantrills transitioned to become fully certified organic about 12 years ago and not only grow a lot of cherries, but a variety of other organic crops.

"We're a small family business, this is a huge opportunity for us," said Mr Cantrill.

"They're encouraging us to double production in the future, perhaps triple it, good on Woolies."

The supermarket group is paying more than $1 million to four of its horticultural suppliers as part of a fresh round of grants to promote organic production.

Cantrill Organics will use the $170,000 to purchase earlier maturing cherry varieties which will bring their harvest season forward.

The funding will also cover infrastructure upgrades to solar panels, the packing shed and a dam water supply.

Luke Cantrill is investing on the future of organics.

Luke Cantrill is investing on the future of organics.

MR CANTRILL said he generally employed 80 to 100 workers each picking season, which currently begins on November 24 and continues to new year's day.

The new varieties he's planting will extend his picking period by about two weeks.

Woolies is also seeking applications for it's next round of Organic Growth Fund grants and interest-free loan payments to support organic farming initiatives.

The supermarket, which has demand for organic fruit and vegetables growing at 20 per cent a year, has budgeted to spend up to $30 million over five years to encourage more organic production.

Another of the operations benefiting this year is a northern Victorian conventional orchard business that has supplied Woolworths for 50 years and is now expanding into organic plum and pear production.

Kalafatis Fresh, based in the Goulburn Valley, will use its $500,000 grant to help purchase orchard infrastructure to farm organic pears and plums.

Another payment will go to a big organic farming operation established by Nathan Free who won 2017 emerging leader title in Rabobank's prestigious leadership awards.

He started growing vegetables commercially when he was 15 and his Wattle Organic Farms partnership near Swan Hill is now Victoria's biggest organic farming venture.

Woolworths' organic growth fund was established in 2018 in partnership with Heritage Bank to help farmers meet the fast growing consumer demand for organic fruit and vegetables.

Fruit and vegetables general manager Paul Turner said customer demand for organic produce was on track to double every five years.

"As we look to the next round, we'd like to encourage more applications from conventional growers who are looking to convert to organic production," he said.

Round four of the Woolworths organic growth fund is open to farmers until October 11.

Organic demand spikes

AUSTRALIA'S $2.6 billion-a-year organic marketplace seems to be actually enjoying a crisis as coronavirus fuels thriving sales of organic food, beverages and hygiene products.

At their peak earlier this year, when stores were swamped by demand for all consumables, sales of certified organic lines jumped more than 50 per cent above normal monthly trends according to retailers and wholesalers.

The industry now expects 2020 sales to easily exceed the 10pc growth recorded in recent years, possibly more than doubling 2019 figures.

Supermarket group Woolworths is reporting 20pc annual growth in demand for its organic lines, while the US-based Costco, the world's largest organic products retailer, has reiterated its commitment to the sector, including sourcing Australian product.

Organic industry leaders are also confident Australia's premium priced organic market will withstand the current coronavirus recession and demand will stay robust.

Nikki Ford believes demand for organic food will continue to increase.

Nikki Ford believes demand for organic food will continue to increase.

AUSTRALIAN Organic chief executive officer Niki Ford said international experience suggested previous health scares had actually promoted and sustained consumer interest in organic food, which then continued well after the crisis passed.

She said the surge in Asian demand for organic infant formula could be traced to China's melamine substitution scandal a decade ago and the outbreak of the SARS virus, which also triggered greater recognition of organic quality in Asia and a rush for cleaner, greener foods.

During the mad cow (BSE) crisis in 2000, organic meat sales outstripped supply in Europe and motivated demand for organic beef worldwide.

"It's quite natural for consumers to pay more attention to the health benefits of organic products and production methods when health issues are at stake," said Ms Ford, who heads Australia's biggest organic sector body.

"Two thirds of purchases of Australian organic lines are triggered by shoppers' own health issues, or concerns about their children's health."

Leaps and bounds

Richard Angove with his daughter Ariel and wife Tanya in Angove vineyards patrolled by Indian Runner ducks controlling snails and insects as a natural alternative to pesticides.

Richard Angove with his daughter Ariel and wife Tanya in Angove vineyards patrolled by Indian Runner ducks controlling snails and insects as a natural alternative to pesticides.

SOUTH Australian conventional and organic winemaker Richard Angove said his family's 134-year-old business recorded a 35pc jump in organic sales last year.

While Angove Organic's restaurant and bar sales collapsed when the pandemic hit, overall revenue actually grew, thanks to leaping bottle shop and online sales.

Despite the uncertain economic outlook, the company, which converted its vineyards to organic 14 years ago, still planned to launch in the US in 2021, complementing a solid export market it enjoyed in Canada.

"There will be challenges and risks for all products and producers in the current environment, but I think the unique selling quality of organic products will maintain momentum in the market," he said.

Ms Ford said a report into how Australian organic sales have weathered the 2020 demand roller coaster would be released in early 2021, but she tipped some categories to average growth of 25pc.

In the US, where organic food sales totaled about $69b ($US50b) in 2019-20, the Washington-based Organic Trade Association reported a 50pc jump in organic produce pantry stocking demand in March, settling back to about 20pc in April and May.

The run on groceries saw organic milk and eggs in particularly high demand and double digit growth for frozen food.

As a proportion of the total $US860b American food market, organic sales have grown from 3.4pc in 2010 to almost 6pc market share in 2019.

Last year, both the organic food and organic non-food products outpaced general market growth by two and three per cent respectively.

"Before the coronavirus outbreak, consumers were increasingly seeking out the organic label to feed their families the healthiest food possible, but the pandemic simply increased that desire," said OTA CEO Laura Batcha.

That assessment was shared by assistant vice president of Costco Wholesale Bob Huskey who last week told an Australian beef industry forum pre-COVID-19 sales had seen "pretty good growth in organics" for 13 years, and that trend was continuing.

Seattle-based Mr Huskey indicated that was a key reason grassfed beef sales had grown in Costco stores, which made Australia a good raw materials supplier for the retailer.

Australian Organic's Ms Ford felt domestic and export sales of organic lines could have been even stronger in the past year if not for supply limitations caused by drought.

Aside from the dry and hot conditions impacting on crop and livestock productivity, limited organic grain yields cut stockfeed availability to sectors such as organic poultry.

This year the challenge would be labour shortages because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

This was particularly being seen in horticulture which relied heavily on extra manual workers to manage growing crops, rather than using herbicides, and for harvest.

"Australian agriculture normally relies on about 200,000 seasonal workers to help across the full harvest spectrum, but we only have about half the usual number of visiting workers and backpackers and it's very hard for many to move interstate," Ms Ford said.

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