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Unique Tasmanian apple popular in AsiaThe Huon Valley in Tasmania has long been known for its apple growing with many growers having been there for generations. One such grower is B W Griggs & Sons who have been growing apples for six generations, the last three on the current farm in the Huon Valley.
Griggs do all the mainstream apple varieties, but also have their own variety, RubiGold.
"We discovered it around 20 years ago, it was just one limb on a tree, a genetic sport which you get every year. This one just stood out because of its high colour, so we took a graft and after about five years of trials it looked like a good variety to grow," explains Dane Griggs. "It had all the good qualities such as uniform colour, it thins naturally without chemicals, meaning less labour and the quality of the fruit was just what we were looking for juicy, high colour and of course the flavour which is very balanced between acid and sugar."
As time has gone on Dane has had lots of customer feedback, for example people who couldn't eat an apple without getting an upset stomach, have said that they had no problems with the RubiGold.
Dane said that the colour and size are perfect for the Asian market, but they would traditionally prefer a sweeter apple, but Asian tastes are now becoming a bit more Europeanised so it is catching on.
The apple is currently being marketed in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China and it was selling really well in Vietnam before that market was closed to Australian apples. Production is not large at 1500 bins.
Photo: Three generations busy in the orchard
"It is a new variety and we, as growers can see the qualities in it, but we are growers not marketers so it has been a more organic growth. In the last twenty years we have seen other varieties, which haven't been quite right come and go. We haven't moved to the next step of contracting growers to grow the RubiGold for us yet, it is something we will do as popularity grows for the apple. It is still early days and you don't want to put other growers at risk until you're sure it will take off, it is a big investment for them."
RubiGold has been sold on a commercial level for ten years and every year it sells out. But they do want to keep it as a bit of a niche product and unique to the Huon Valley, and to promote it under the Tasmanian brand. "RubiGold is the only apple which is exported, with the mainstream varieties everyone has them and then it just comes down to price, with the RubiGold we can differentiate ourselves."
The Griggs boys, four generations
For the other varieties it is all domestic sales which go to the independent retailers. According to Dane, one of the benefits of being a small grower is that you are not directly linked to a big retailer and don't have to have a twelve month supply which gives you a little bit more freedom. You do have to have the certifications to supply them, but this also gets you access to the export market. "We concentrate on the independents such as Hill Street Grocer in Hobart and Salamanca Fresh. The big retailers will contract the big growers to grow for them, it not like the old days when the retailers came the wholesale markets to buy fruit, back then it was more on an even footing, if you had a good product at the wholesale market, you got a good price, now its all grown to contract."
This season's cherry crop
Griggs branched out to cherry growing around 15 years ago, to diversify a bit and spread the risk. "Although I think we have actually increased the risk, the way things are going," laughs Dane. "Other people were growing cherries in the valley and we heard there were opportunities, but we didn't go big on it and we are still 90% apples and only 10% cherries. Cherries are a high risk crop - high risk, high reward, but they are more vulnerable than apples."
Big sized berries
"We had rain a couple of weeks ago, 25mm which was more than just a little blip, and was enough to do a bit of damage, we also had rain in the second week of December, around 100mm which caused more damage, the cherries were still green and turning pink. We've never really had rain at that time of the season before so we didn't know what the result would be. Initially the fruit looked ok but as the time passed the water just stayed in the the ground and the roots soaked up the moisture and the cherries on the trees with a lighter crop all split, those with heavier crops actually benefited from it and now have big berries. So it was not a complete disaster."
Despite this Dane said that climate change is just something you have to deal with, the weather will always have its challenges and benefits.
Early March will see the start of the apple harvest and the crop is looking very good, according to Dane. This good news as last year was the worst year they've had for a long time, "We had a really bad spring, cold, wet and windy. As soon as the blossoms came out we had these strong winds which just blew all the petals off, then when the bees came out they had no where to go. It was all down to pollination and we only had around 50% of our normal crop, so it was a tight year."
Photo: Dane Griggs
For more information:
B W Griggs & Sons
Tel: +61 3 6264 1474
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