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TAS Country : March 10th 2011
16 Friday, Mar FARM FEATURE MILLERS ORCHARDS, HILLWOOD Four generations of the Miller family have seen many milestones in Tasmania's fruit growing industry. JUICY FRUIT: Comice pears, above, and Gala apples, below. land THIS Karolin MacGregor Apples, and pat Apples, and pati PICKERS started bringing in the first of this year's apple and pear crops this week at G. C. Miller and Sons' Hillwood orchards in the Tamar Valley. While many family-owned orchards across Tasmania have gradually been pulled out, the Miller family's willingness to adapt their production techniques and diversify has enabled them to ride out the often tough market conditions. The family business is now run by managing director and marketing manager Brendan Miller and his brother Justin who look after the quality assurance and packhouse production. Out in the orchard it is Brendan and Justin's uncle Kevin and their cousin Wade who take care of the orchard management. The orchard was established in 1945 by Geoffrey Miller who purchased the land. Since then, the orchard has been gradually expanded and is now a 75ha enterprise. Included in that original land purchase was a plot of about half an acre of Bosc pears which despite being more than 100 years old are still in full production. Justin said many people probably didn't realise that pear trees could last so long,. ''There should be some sort of saying about pear trees because they're pretty tough,'' he said. ''We like having them in the orchard because they're part of the history of the place.'' Brendan said during the past 10-15 years one of the major changes at the orchard had been how the trees were managed. These days, rather than the old style planting system where trees were spaced 2.5m apart, the trees are now planted 1.5 m apart and are grown on a wired trellis system. ''It's all about increasing production per hectare and the trellis system has allowed us to do that,'' Brendan said. ''There's a lot of work and research done globally on different production systems and this is something that has come along that we've been able to use.'' Using the trellis system, the family has doubled their fruit production per hectare as well as increase efficiency. About two thirds of the family's orchards operate under the trellis system. Justin said optimising production was a delicate balancing act between keeping as much fruit on the trees as possible without overloading them. ''What we're aiming to get is a wall of fruit,'' he said. ''It's a lot easier to pick because they trees are flatter and you don't have to try and get into the middle of them.'' To boost production, the trees are irrigated through drier months and fertigation is used to ensure they are receiving all the necessary nutrients. The family grows about 10 different varieties of apples. Fuji is the family's biggest variety followed by Galas and Pink Ladies. Each year they produce about 3000 bins of apples. Justin said picking had started and it was a nerve-racking time of the year. ''It's nice to walk around the orchard and see all the fruit waiting to be picked, but we'll breathe a lot easier when it's all picked and in storage. The Millers also grow pears in their orchard which makes up about 5 per cent of the business. They grow three main pear varieties. Brendan said increasing demand for pears had resulted in more trees being planted. ''In our business we're seeing some growth on the pear side of things so we're expanding,'' he said. Most of the Millers' apples and pears are sold into the Australian domestic market through major supermarket chain Woolworths. They also export some apples to Vietnam and Taiwan. About 10 years ago, the family decided to diversify their business and established a 6ha cherry orchard. Justin said the cherries, which are picked before the apple and pear season starts, were a good way to even out cash flow for the business and fill the normal seasonal gap.
March 3rd 2011
March 17th 2011