Innovation the key to Rocky's fruit expansion

Anna Turnbull
Two minutes

Rocky Varapodio, has a plan to bring the humble pear into the 21st century.

The third-generation Ardmona grower and packer says without modern varieties in this fruit category, pears will be left behind when compared to other fruit types available.

During the past two years, Rocky planted 15ha of a pear variety not grown in Australia, but extensively grown in New Zealand, known as the Honey Belle pear. With its established market in Asia and unique characteristics, bringing it to the Goulburn Valley was a “no brainer”.

“There are a couple of new ones on the horizon, which is great as the old traditional varieties need to be left in the fruit bowl to ripen for a few days before they’re at the optimum to eat,” Rocky said.

“This one has a bit more of a texture like an apple and is sweet and juicy so you can pick it up and eat it straight away; it’s a snacking pear.

“There are still people who love eating traditional pears, but this gives the consumers that may not usually snack on a pear another option, and it’s about trying to grow the whole pear category.”

The ability to be innovative on the orchard is what gets Rocky “out of bed in the morning” and he said upgrades to the delivery network made by the Connections Project gave irrigators the confidence to think outside the square.

“With what they are doing to the system, it gives us more confidence,” he said.

“Water is the single biggest important thing, because without it we can’t do anything and it’s encouraging to see our system being upgraded.”

He said the Project was helping keep the region’s irrigation system healthier and sustainable for future generations, while delivering the proposed water savings.

“Through dryer years, water can be costly so water must be available and affordable for irrigators,” he said.

The $2 billion Project is revitalising the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID). It’s creating an irrigation system that allows primary producers like Rocky to compete on the world stage.

The upgraded system delivers water-use efficiency of 85 per cent or better, maximising the water available for productive agriculture.

Rocky said efficient water use on-farm was an integral part of setting up a new orchard block and the

Honey Belle planting, due for first harvest in 2020, was watered with a fully-automated, mini-jet sprinkler system.

He said through the on-farm efficiency program 10 soil moisture probes were placed around the

property with radio control towers back to the orchard office allowing him to make better irrigation decisions and use less water.

“The Goulburn Valley, and particularly Ardmona have been proactive in water efficiency and have moved away from those older traditional, not efficient systems,” he said.

Rocky is keen to see the next generation join the horticultural industry and with access to a state-of-the-art water delivery system built through the Project and population growth he knows opportunities exist for those willing to do the work.

“In the past the industry hasn’t been attractive to young people but I think in the future that might change. We are seeing more young people that are looking for careers in hort’ and ag’,” he said.

Part of the 200ha apple, pear and stonefruit orchard is bordered by Central Goulburn number four

channel which was remediated and upgraded during the 2018 Winter Works.

At this site 2km of channel was lined with a Geosynthetic Clay Liner (GCL), generating water savings of about 505ML annually.

Connections Project Director Frank Fisseler said the Project was the largest irrigation modernisation project in the country.

“The project will ensure the future of our farming businesses, ensure the future of our communities, which were built on the region’s agricultural prosperity,” Mr Fisseler said.

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Economic investment