Price finds avocado passion

Price finds avocado passion

Imbil avocado grower and Robert Price. <i>-Picture: RODNEY GREEN.</i>

Imbil avocado grower and Robert Price. -Picture: RODNEY GREEN.


SUNSHINE Coast grower Robert Price has developed a passion for the avocado industry.


WHEN Robert Price grew tired of working in information technology and decided to buy 65 hectares of bush outside Imbil in south east Queensland he had never even considered becoming an avocado farmer.

But when he found an abandoned, healthy grove of 70 Fuerte and Hass avocado trees up the back of his new property an idea began to take hold.

"We saw these trees that weren't being watered or looked after in any way but they were flourishing so we assumed that avocados would grow well in this country and they do," he said.

Twelve years later, Mr Price has about 9ha of avocadoes (3200 trees) planted on his property and is actively involved in the industry as the Sunshine Coast director on the board of Avocadoes Australia.

He's developed a passion for the industry but says it hasn't been a lifestyle choice.

"It was a commercial decision, not a way of life," he said.

"But I do enjoy it, particularly when things are going well."

With a total of 3200 trees, the Price farm is considered large for the Sunshine Coast region but is small in scale compared to the larger plantations of up to 60,000 trees located in areas like Bundaberg and Childers.

Mr Price started his development by planting 800 trees annually, dropping that down to 400 during a period of slower growth and recently ramping it back to up to 800 new trees annually.

"It was a commercial decision, not a way of life."

He's trialled a few varieties over the years but said Hass avocadoes grow well and have excellent market acceptance.

"We put in 800 Pinkerton trees which we are now in the process of changing back to Hass because there is not great market acceptance for them," he said.

"In fact, it has cost me about $2000 to send them to market each year."

The busiest time of the year is picking which runs from late May through to August.

It is manual work and the pickers must handle the fruit with care to avoid bruising.

Once picked, the fruit are transported in 400kg bins to Gympie where it is packed, refrigerated and sent via Sunfresh, a growers cooperative, to markets in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

"Using crushed granite we get better tasting fruit and studier trees and it only needs to go on once a year."

The trees are irrigated using water efficient micro sprinklers and moisture levels are monitored using electronic sensors that advise the grower if water needs to be applied or withheld.

Pruning is done mechanically during September and October and all prunings are mulched and left under the trees.

The trees are also fertilised around this time and Mr Price uses a natural fertiliser from the Toowoomba based EarthLife.

"It is basically just crushed granite with some extra natural additives and we have been using it for several years now," Mr Price said.

"Using crushed granite we get better tasting fruit and studier trees and it only needs to go on once a year."

Mr Price said the industry wasn't without its challenges including threats from disease and pests, export trade barriers and natural disasters such as floods.

"You have your ups and downs and we went through one particularly bad year where we had to throw away a third of our fruit because it was going to cost us money to send it to market," he said.

"But, at the end of the day, that's just farming."


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