Mildura Weekly : Friday January 23 Vol 9 No 11 2015
NEWS 09 FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2015 MILDURAWEEKLY.COM.AU By BEN PISCIONERI SUNRAYSIA is now home to one of Australia’s largest pomegranate crops, but it hasn’t come without its fair share of heartache and expense. Several years ago, pomegranates were seen as a potentially attractive alternative for embattled citrus and grape growers. But for many growers those hopes were soon dashed as thou- sands of acres of pomegranate plantings started mysteriously dy- ing off, with no obvious cause. It was a problem experienced across the nation, with Tasmania and the Northern Territory seem- ingly the only regions to largely es- cape the carnage. It wasn’t uncommon to hear of growers losing between 70 and 90 percent of their pomegranate crops, prompting many growers to aban- don the fruit after successive years of major crop losses, moving onto to other crops. Long-time Sunraysia horticul- turist Graham Robertson however has stuck it out, and is now bearing the fruits of his labour and persis- tence, successfully growing the fruit on his Cardross property as a com- mercial concern. Several years ago, Graham was in the same position as other grow- ers. In one year, he lost more than 70 percent of the 4000 pomegran- ate trees he planted. But through dogged persis- tent, introducing new varieties and changing the way he farms the fruit, the Cardross grower appears to have found the solution to successfully growing the delicate commodity. Graham is now one of the larg- est producers of pomegranates in Australia, boasting almost 45 acres, or about 12,000 trees, making him one of the biggest growers in the country. Like many other growers, Gra- ham was lured to pomegranates fol- lowing the demise of the wine grape industry. He planted his first trees about seven years ago, and for the first two years there were promising signs. “But the third year, they all start- ed dying off. I probably lost about 70 percent of the trees – about 12 acres worth,” Graham said. He then introduced several new varieties as well as changing his farming practices, including his wa- tering and chemical regimes, which slowly increased the survival rate of his crops. “It’s been a long hard road, but we’ve worked out it’s prob- ably in part due to the chemicals – they don’t like certain chemicals. I also think we weren’t giving them enough water, so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve,” Graham said. “The new varieties have also helped a lot.” Despite appearing to have cracked the puzzle to growing pomegranates, Graham said pro- ducers still have to accept a certain level of crop loss as a given. “We certainly aren’t losing as many trees as we were. We’re now losing about 10 percent a year,” he said. “The way I look at it, if you want 40 acres of pomegranates, well, you plant 50. You’re just going to have losses and you have to live with that. “You just have to keep turning them over and planting new variet- ies. I’ve got two other varieties com- ing in this year that are being im- ported from Europe. “I’m just going to stick with them. If I’d have planted almond trees instead of pomegranates I’d be laughing,” he joked, “but I’m pretty committed to them. “It’s been a tough road but my philosophy is, look at the good trees, not the bad ones, because if you look at the bad ones you get a bit depressed.” The newer, more successful vari- eties planted on the Cardross prop- erty are lighter in colour than the normal deep red colour common to the fruit, but Graham said they’re actually a sweeter, better tasting fruit. After finally ‘cracking the code’ to successfully growing pomegran- ates, Graham produced between 3500 and 4000 cartons of the fruit last year. With more new plantings and varieties coming online, he’s expect- ing to almost double that figure this year, with harvest set to get under- way in the next two to three weeks. Cracking the code THERE are a myriad of reasons Sunraysia growers in particular were lured to the pomegranate as an alternative to the traditional crops grown in the district. Due to their origins in Afghanistan and the Mediterranean, pome- granates need very little water compared to the citrus and grapes tra- ditionally grown in the district. Graham Robertson said that in his experience pomegranates can survive on as little as two megalitres of water per hectare, but need about four megalitres to grow commercially. This compares to about 10 megalitres for most grape varieties. Another enticing factor is the increased demand for the fruit, par- ticularly given it’s worldwide reputation as a ‘superfruit’. Pomegranates are predominantly grown for their juice, which is packed with higher than average levels of antioxidants, nutrients and other health-promoters. Pomegranate perseverance pays off • GOOD FRUIT: Cardross pomegranate grower Graham Robertson. Pomegranates are new ‘super fruit’ Bremick Fasteners NOW AVAILABLE at Dahlsens BACK TO WORK PROMOTION Purchase from our Bremick range and go into the draw to win one of 20 Toolboxes!* *Purchase before 27th February. Complete Entry Form to go into weekly draws. Terms and conditions at dahlsens.com.au/bremick DAHLSENS MILDURA 973–1029 Benetook Avenue 3502 Ph: (03) 5023 1111 firstname.lastname@example.org WIN!
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