‘How we became dragon fruit farmers by accident’

Chinchilla's accidental dragon fruit farmers enjoy a bumper season


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This Chinchilla couple just wanted to stay healthy, but they never expected it would see them grow hundreds of dragon fruit beyond expectations.

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Bill and Jacqui Dehnert, May Park, Chinchilla, began growing dragon fruit as a hobby two years ago but their production has skyrocketed. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher

Bill and Jacqui Dehnert, May Park, Chinchilla, began growing dragon fruit as a hobby two years ago but their production has skyrocketed. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher

A CHINCHILLA couple who initially planted dragon fruit to stay fit have defied the difficulties associated with growing them in the region to produce fruit well ahead of normal expectations.

Two years ago Bill and Jacqui Dehnert planted six posts of dragon fruit on their 485 hectare sheep and goat property, May Park, after hearing on the radio about benefits for diabetes sufferers, which Bill had battled for more than 25 years. 

But their success and enjoyment in growing the cactus-like plant has seen their plantation grow to more than 400 posts of red, white and yellow dragon fruit varieties with a turnoff of up to 300 fruit off one post. 

The couple have 13 rows with 32 to 34 posts in each row.

The couple have 13 rows with 32 to 34 posts in each row.

The ‘semi-retired’ couple pick all the fruit themselves when the season begins two weeks before Christmas and sell their produce to the Brisbane Farmers Markets and Chinchilla Farmers Market. 

At the peak of their season they were sending between 150 and 200 trays of fruit to Brisbane each week with some weighing as much as 1.5 kilograms.

Other growers have visited the plantation and are shocked at their high production levels, with plants as young as four months already bearing fruit compared to the normal two year waiting period.

The couple pick all of the fruit themselves while running a fat lamb and goat operation.

The couple pick all of the fruit themselves while running a fat lamb and goat operation.

The plants are trained to grow up timber posts eventually falling over a frame of either wooden panels or tyres. 

The Dehnerts fertilised the plants with sheep manure during their establishment and used silage to keep them cool, while refraining from over watering with their dripper system. 

But, the couple can’t pinpoint the exact secret to their success. 

The dragon fruit in flower. Picture: Supplied.

The dragon fruit in flower. Picture: Supplied.

“This was all started by accident,” Mr Dehnert said. 

“Everybody we talk to says they are hard to grow, we put them in and we might have lost half a dozen,” Ms Dehnert added.

“Billy and I, we are trying to keep fit. It’s not that we went out to make a lot of money but we got in it mainly for health benefits. 

The dragon fruit are picked three quarters ripe to ensure they are perfect after a two day truck trip to Brisbane.

The dragon fruit are picked three quarters ripe to ensure they are perfect after a two day truck trip to Brisbane.

“It does take a lot of hours but we find it quite interesting and we still get a thrill when we pick some. We haven’t lost the thrill of it yet.” 

In August last year the Australian government agreed to allow imports of dragon fruit from Vietnam, an announcement which worried local growers. 

Dragon fruit production is a specialised industry for Australia with the Northern Territory producing the largest single-season crop of 78 tonne in 2015 compared with Vitenam’s 2015 exports of almost one million tonne. 

A white dragon fruit (left) beside a red dragon fruit.

A white dragon fruit (left) beside a red dragon fruit.

But, Ms Dehnert hopes the move will help bring prices down and allow more Australians to try the often forgotten fruit priced as high as $20/kg in the city. 

“To me if I had a family of four you could never afford to buy them but since bringing them in from Vietnam, maybe they will get cheaper,” she said.

She said often people were afraid to buy dragon fruit based on its look.

The couple are expecting their picking season to finish soon.

The couple are expecting their picking season to finish soon.

“The daggier they look, the better the flavour of the fruit,” she said.

“If you sold one like that and it had all dead ends you would say, I’m not paying $4 for that. But you should be paying whatever the price because that’s when the flavour is best.” 

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