Fruit family is embracing industry changes

By Country News

It was a tip from a mate that led Edward Turnbull to a tiny corner of northern Victoria in 1892.

After leaving his home in England, the 41-year-old travelled first to Adelaide, but he soon received a letter from a friend claiming prospects were better across the border.

In a place called Ardmona, the land and water were said to be cheap, the transport good and infrastructure for gravity flow irrigation was in place.

Without hesitation, Edward purchased 11.33ha on Ardmona Rd.

This parcel of land, an orchard of vines and fruit, was passed from one generation to the next and now this tale spans five generations.

A stone’s throw from the original homestead, a direct line of Turnbull fruit growers has lived and worked ever since.

Ross Turnbull, 77, remembers what irrigation looked like in the 1950s and said back then it hadn’t changed since his great grandfather bought the property.

‘‘We used to cultivate the land so that it was soft and we used to form channels and banks in the orchard,’’ Ross said.

‘‘We didn’t use pumps. We would survey the slopes by eye and the water would run down to the end.

‘‘Later we stopped cultivating and we started using sprinklers staggered throughout the orchard.

‘‘Then I figured out that if we used hoses we could move them around and we needed fewer sprinklers, in fact we only needed a third of the infrastructure.

‘‘Low volume emitters came next; mini-jets and dripper systems.’’

The Turnbull family has had a long-running history not only in Ardmona, but with local fruit processing icons SPC and Ardmona Fruit Products.

Ross was elected to the board of Ardmona Fruit Products, as it was then called, in 1976.

He became the chairman of the board in 1980 and held the position for 23 years, overseeing the 2001 merger of SPC and Ardmona Fruit Products.

The Turnbull orchard, which is on the Central Goulburn backbone, was modernised during stage one of the Connections project.

During last year’s Goulburn-Murray Water winter works, the Kelvin property at Tatura East, which is on the Central Goulburn number four channel, was remediated and upgraded.

At this site 2km of channel was remediated and lined with a geosynthetic clay liner, generating water savings of about 505Ml.

The fifth generation of Turnbulls now manage the property, with Chris Turnbull, 42, and Alex Turnbull, 39, relying on their mobile phones to work irrigation systems and to access data.

‘‘There is no doubt my ancestors used a lot more water than we do,’’ Ross said.

‘‘The old system would break and the undulating orchard was hard to water evenly. Some trees received too much water while others didn’t get enough.’’

For Ross, a modern system means having better control over irrigation which evens out the health of the trees.

‘‘We are heading into an era where we are becoming increasingly efficient in every way when it comes to agriculture. We simply have to,’’ he said.

‘‘The fact is water is a shared resource and it needs to be managed well.

‘‘If Dad knew that the irrigation upgrades mean some farmers can switch the water on lying in bed holding a mobile phone, he would be quick to tell you it was much harder back in his day. But I reckon he would be impressed.’’

Funded by the Victorian and federal governments, the $2billion Connections project is the largest irrigation modernisation project in Australia.