Shepparton orchard set to go organic

By Spencer Fowler Steen

After 50 years in the fruit game, Shepparton's Kalafatis Fresh Produce is making a leap into the organic market.

The Kalafatis family currently produces conventional plums and pears from its 500,000-tree orchard and is set to invest in new infrastructure to grow organic varieties.

Kalafatis Fresh Produce managing director Jimmy Kalafatis said it was the start of something "much bigger".

“Consumers are putting more organic produce into their shopping baskets every week,” he said.

“That's what we're seeing and what the statistics are telling us.

“We applied for the grant because we want to be at the forefront of potential growth markets in Australian fresh produce.”

Kalafatis technical manager Michael Crisera said it was the first time the company had ventured into the organic market in its 50-year history.

“We're probably one of the first fruit growers in the region to grow organic,” he said.

“We're keeping it local to start, ensuring we have excellent products to supply Woolworths.”

The business is set to make the transition with a $500,000 grant from Woolworths.

The $500,000 will go towards purchasing infrastructure to farm organic pears and plums, including a vertical espalier trellis to cover the crop with pest-proof netting and an irrigation system above the orchard floor to allow for mowing between trees, a critical task when herbicides aren't in use.

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum said as it stood, the Goulburn Valley produced about 80 per cent of Australia's pears, with the organic market a "phenomenal" growth area.

“Infrastructure is expensive at $200,000 to $300,000 per hectare, and we congratulate Woolworths for supporting Jimmy Kalafatis and his family,” he said.

While Mr Drum welcomed the funding, he warned of a "looming crisis" in getting fruit off trees in the wake of serious shortages of overseas seasonal workers due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“It's an incredibly important part of governance and we need to be able to supply the labor force to get fruit off the trees,” he said.

Applications for round four of the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund are now open; applications close on October 11.

To apply, visit: woolworths.com.au/shop/discover/sustainability/organic-growth-fund