DPI – Helping culturally diverse orchardists in the Shepparton region adapt

Project Profile

Name of Project Helping culturally diverse orchardists in the Shepparton region adapt
Name of group(s) involved DPI
Location Shepparton
State Victoria
NRM Region Goulburn Broken
What industry does the group belong to? Government organisation

Issues

Repeatedly-lowered quotas of pears and peaches from the local cannery have forced Shepparton fruit-growers to diversify their production, with many Williams pears and canning peaches being removed and destroyed. With no reliable markets to give incentives for replanting, productive land and irrigation water resources in the Shepparton East District were left under-utilised.

Faced with reduced fruit intakes from the SPC Ardmona cannery, excess pears were often sold below the cost of production. This led some of the Punjabi orchardists in the district to explore diversified plantings of summer and winter vegetables.

To make the transition to these new crops, the Ethnic Landcare and Horticulture Officer, Henry Schneider – with collaborative support from the Department of Primary Industries Victoria (DPI) and financial support from the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (GBCMA) – was able to facilitate this process with advice on soil management and water use efficiency.

The DPI also assisted farmers in gaining Freshcare accreditation. Freshcare, a quality-assurance program which is necessary to get into the market for large commercial sellers, certifies that produce is prepared to specifications and legislative requirements so that it is safe to eat.

As part of the Landcare program in the area, recommendations on suitable windbreak tree species and planting strategies were also provided to help reduce wind damage and contain pesticide sprays within orchards, as well as improve the “street-scape”.

Unfortunately, Landcare management projects in the Shepparton East Irrigation District are currently on hold due to the imminent modernisation of the irrigation channel network through the Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP). According to Henry Schneider, Ethnic Landcare and Horticulture Officer for the Ethnic Council of Shepparton, implementation of the modernisation program “has not yet been decided”, which has stalled Landcare projects along channels and roadsides in the area until the process begins.

Project Detail

Background to Project SPC Ardmona’s canning plant in Shepparton is the major buyer for Williams pears grown in the region. However, SPC Ardmona has reduced quotas for these pears over recent years. Combined with the recent effects of the ongoing drought, this has left many farmers with a need to adjust their farming techniques and systems.

Most local orchardists were already responding to the need to modernise their farms in response to both the reduction and the drought by increasing the efficiency of their orchards. Many properties moved to high-density farming, increasing the tree density from approximately 1000 trees per hectare to around 3500-4000 trees per hectare. However, 22 Punjabi farmers in the community who had bought in to the industry recently were left without the capital to implement both these changes and more efficient drip or micro-jet irrigation systems.

In 2001, one of these farmers started trialling different vegetable crops to try to find a practical land use which would provide financial returns from the land and water used.

In the development of the vegetable-growing practices, help in changing soil management for the new crops was provided by Henry Schneider of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton. This help included technical resources to aid with the testing of soils, correction of soil pH levels, education on the need for maintaining soil health and the management of pesticide residues.

Key Objectives The project aimed to help farmers in the Shepparton region adapt to changing market requirements and a changing farming landscape. By providing strategic advice on soil and land management and assisting farmers in implementation of sustainable farming techniques, the Ethnic Council of Shepparton, DPI, and the GBCMA helped culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) orchardists to survive and optimise their soil and irrigation water resources.
Description of Project The involvement of Ethnic Landcare and Horticulture Officer Henry Schneider, under the Ethnic Access Landcare Project, has resulted in the transition from pear growing to vegetable growing. This was achieved primarily by providing assistance in performing soil tests, assessing soil pH levels, lime and gypsum sourcing and application rates, and maintaining soil organise matter in the transition from orchard farming to higher-intensity, year-round vegetable production.

Once the first orchardists successfully made the transition to vegetables, the knowledge spread to other Punjabi farmers in the community. The major summer and winter crops are zucchini and broccoli, respectively, but trials also include radishes, broad beans, and okra.

The windbreak project was undertaken by Nick and Cohn Parris of ACN Orchard in 2011. River she-oaks (Casuarina cunninghamiama) were planted along the boundary of their property to protect fruit from damage, improve its quality, and eventually restrict spray spread to increase its efficiency and decrease its effect on neighbouring properties.

Project Outcomes – Qualitative The project has resulted in increased knowledge of land and water irrigation use options for orchardists in the Shepparton East region. It has also assisted the local Punjabi community in successfully diversifying the productive land and irrigation water use in the Shepparton East irrigation district in line with changing markets in the area.
Transferable Outcomes The knowledge gained over the course of the transition project has enabled farmers to branch out into alternative produce which could potentially prove more beneficial than their previous pear-growing efforts, especially with SPC Ardmona restricting their intake and ceasing to take fruit from some area farmers.

The foundations have also been placed for a strengthening of the relationship between growers and the resources of the Ethnic Landcare and Horticulture Officer. The project has been able to increase the orchardists’ knowledge of soil and irrigation management systems for alternative crops in the area.