Bec Grant manages two properties for Southern Cross Farms – Hillston Citrus at Hillston, in NSW’s Riverina; and Sunmar Orchards in the Sunraysia district. This is her third harvest with Sunmar and she has been working at Hillston Citrus since August last year.
At Sunmar, Bec manages three farms, roughly 130 hectares of citrus with varieties of navels, mandarins, tangos, tangelos and cara caras, at Hillston she manages roughly 315 hectares with similar varieties.
The majority of the farms Bec manages have transferred to the MAIT drip irrigation system. Also converting some low-lying sprinkler blocks to drip.
“The reason why we converted those three blocks to drip from low line sprinkler was that the land in that area was undulating.”
With the low line sprinklers Bec said water was prone to sitting in lower and flatter areas of land creating pockets of water. Bec says the MAIT irrigation system is an easier program to use and less complicated to teach to employers and so far has worked well.
Bec has also been working with management and contractors focussing on fixing some of the drainage issues where the majority of her Afourer mandarins grow.
“We spent probably the last 12-18 months looking at installing more drainage over there to remove any excess water that may be sitting in the water table.
“The trees are starting to come back now; it’s starting to have a flush so that’s a good sign but it won’t be for another two or three years for those trees to start to produce fruit again.”
Bec says border closures caused some inflexibility around accessing seasonal workers last year but they still managed to get their fruit picked.
“We were fortunate to have pickers on the same side of the border that were picking so we were lucky,” she said.
“It certainly slowed the picking down but it never stopped it because we just kept going but I think we’re going to have probably similar challenges this year.”
Further stress was added in the pandemic trying to keep pickers around throughout the duration of the harvest but Bec says that’s the ‘beauty of the citrus industry’.
“Citrus is a bit like wine grape harvest. It starts off slow, then boom you’re straight into it for the next four or five months and then it slows down again towards the end of the season.”
Bec is moving into the new season with the same precautions to the pandemic as last year but says it’s harder to implement Covid-19 rules now that people are relaxing with
“With Covid still around we still need to be careful. We still need to do temperature checks because everyone’s out and travelling now, so we don’t know who’s who or where they’ve been. We all have to take those precautions and we just do what we’ve been doing for the last season.”