Valley Fresh Cherries and Stone Fruits has been operating for 18 years as a family business. It has grown from a small horticultural enterprise to a cherry and sugar plum outfit, supplying the domestic market as well as exporting all over the world.
Barisha Batinich and his wife Kathy bought the business 18 years ago and acquired a GP Graders machine with the purchase. It was a mechanical grader, 4 outlets and at the time, they thought they were pretty lucky to have one of them. Since then they have installed another mechanical grader and most recently upgraded to the 4 lane optical system with 19 exits.
"We chose the 4-lane optical grader because we'd used the GP machines in the past. Myself, and my family have a long history with GP Graders so I had every confidence in choosing the GP machine and the new software that was developed for the machine, for us to run now and into the future," explains Barisha.
Barisha said that he really saw a big impact of having the GP optical grading system when Covid hit and they had to run with less staff, but the other benefits were the better sizing, getting the top lines off to a gift pack 1kg box and better sorting technology for defects and colour.
"With the Covid situation, every day, every week, you're left wondering what's around the corner and if your packing shed is going to be affected. We're fortunate enough, at the moment, not to have been affected by any major shut downs because of Covid but the GP system has allowed us to operate on minimal staff if we had to through the season. Even if it's not Covid, if someone happens to fall sick, or they've got an appointment and can't make it that day, we can usually shuffle the staff around and not affect the productivity of the day.
"The software, when installed, was easy to use. It took a few weeks to understand how the system works but, like everything, once you understood where the numbers went and what the numbers meant, it was a breeze to roll through and program and the system on my own. We tweak it every day, looking at the fruit, scanning the fruit, analysing the numbers and slightly tweaking the numbers as we go from different growers and obviously, different blocks have different fruit qualities coming through as well. Changes are straightforward."
Barisha also commends the service provided by GP Graders:
"If there's anything that is not quite straightforward, there's usually someone in the area that can come and help us out. Or the remote service that GP offers, back to the office in Melbourne through one of their technicians, is straight forward and easy. There hasn't been a time when I haven't gotten through to someone who could help me out."
One of the challenges he sees, going forward into the next few seasons is keeping up with the new technology that GP is developing and hopefully putting that on the current machine in the coming 12 months.
"The main thing is just keeping up with the technology, so we're up to industry standard and other growers throughout Australia. There is no chance, at all, that you could run a horticultural business without the optical machines. Not a chance at all. I would have been sold up and been running a Jim's mowing franchise down the coast by now. That's obvious to me, I just wouldn't be putting up with it. I just wouldn't do it. Having smart machinery and automation and effective systems in place also significantly increases the value of the whole business."