A Victorian stone fruit grower is ensuring customers that although there have been weather impacts on a few earlier varieties, on size and Brix, quality will still be very good leading into Christmas and through the new year period.
A.C.N. Orchards Operations Manager Matt Parris admits that as an industry, earlier varieties have all suffered a little in size, taste and overall quality because of these weather conditions.
"Our volumes will be a little down on normal years, but as for quality we have worked extremely hard to ensure our product regardless of the volume, will be of high quality that we aim for every season," he said. "In general, it’s been a very different lead-up to stone fruit season. We have had a very wet winter and spring due to Lanina. We battled through a cooler spring which does impact on fruit set and overall fruit growth. There’s a greater risk of bacterial disease and other issues that require extra attention. Normally in Bunbartha, we experience a very warm spring with night time temperatures usually staying in the double digits and daytime temperatures well into the high 20’s and low 30’s. But this spring we were experiencing single-digit overnight temps with daytime temperatures a lot of the time staying in the mid to high teens."
The company grows many varieties of Peach, Nectarine and a handful of plums, as well as apples. The harvest season begins in late November and A.C.N Orchards supply many varieties of stone fruit through to mid-March. From there the focus turns to Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples, which leads into May.
"It really is a six-month program for us now," Mr Parris said. "Six months of different flavours and fruit types, it really is a very special time of the year. Variety selection is very important, we aim to supply only the best tasting and eating varieties that we can from our region. A lot of trial work goes into the development of the farm and having close relationships with breeders and nurseries is very important to ensure that we are always developing in the correct areas. Trips offshore have been limited in the last few seasons due to COVID-19 and travelling restrictions but we have full intentions of spending more time in California and Europe in the years to come. To continue our research and learnings about up-and-coming varieties and improving our variety program further."
The fruit is supplied to the major supermarket chains as well as the premium markets in most states in Australia. Mr Parris says demand has been strong this summer, and that supply and demand do come into play on a year where there have been extreme weather events and crops are down or damaged, automatically the demand will be there due to the supply running shorter than usual.
"This means you can find our fruit on many supermarket shelves and independent retailers and greengrocers. Look for the A.C.N 'Price Look-Up Code (PLU) sticker' on your fruit," he said. "We have approached our season, just like any other. Pruning, thinning and fertilizing were completed. Luckily Fruit set was stronger than expected for the weather conditions, some varieties are behind in numbers but others have been quite strong regardless. Fruit size has been impacted on earlier varieties, as the warmer temperatures haven’t been around for optimal fruit growth. But the later varieties are benefiting from much warmer temperatures and dryer conditions currently being experienced in the Goulburn Valley."
A.C.N. Orchards also export stone fruit to many Asian countries including China, Singapore and Malaysia and now will be building a program through exporters to supply Vietnam.
"We work extremely closely with our Premium market agents and exporters," Mr Parris said. "This is very important in developing your brand and providing the best eating experience we possibly can. Listening to market feedback, being open and honest and our marketers having faith in backing our brand and products are all things that have helped us develop brand recognition and consumer confidence. Aussie Consumers love stone fruit, it’s a summer fruit and is fortunate to be in abundance around the Christmas and New year period. The warmer weather and the different flavours that all types of summer fruits offer to make for an amazing eating experience no matter what type of fruit you’re eating. Stone fruit supplies that natural sugar fix that compliments any occasion and if you have the right varieties on your table, the flavours that you can experience will make you question grabbing the chocolate or extra piece of cake. If you allow your fruit to ripen in the fruit bowl, you should not be disappointed."
Family-focused approach improving the product quality
A.C.N Orchards is a family-owned and operated business, that began in 1984 when Matt's Dad Cohn and Uncle Nick formed the business. The brothers dedicated themselves to growing and developing a business based on quality over quantity. The idea was to supply fruit to not only the major supermarket chains and canning factories but to focus on the premium independent retailers as well as the premium export markets.
"The roots dig much deeper than 1984 and the A.C.N name, as Cohn and Nick were 3rd generation fruit growers honouring their late father and Grandfather who taught them so much," Matt Parris said. "In 2020, we tragically lost a major part of our operation in the passing of my Uncle Nick. Although Nick took with him a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion that could never possibly be replaced we decided as a family operation to continue his legacy in growing and supplying the best possible fruit we can, in his honour. I am a 4th generation fruit grower who is lucky enough to work alongside my dad Cohn, my cousin Sarah, and multiple close employees who are like family to us and share the same passion for quality fruit. We have family incorporated into the operations of the business with my Auntie managing the office and administration alongside my wife, together they keep the wheels rolling behind the scenes. If you happen to spend some time on our property, you will most likely see my grandmother walking through the farm picking fruit or walking through the packing shed and keeping an eye on quality."