Promising start to 2019 dried grape season

Australian dried grape growers are anticipating another strong season as they prepare for the imminent harvest.

Dried Fruits Australia chairman Mark King said dry and warm weather conditions forecast for the primary growing region of Sunraysia would help producers deliver a high-quality crop.

“We’re expecting the yield to be about the same as last year, which came in at 17,000 tonnes,” Mr King said.

“The sultana crop naturally fluctuates from year to year, while new high yielding varieties like Sunmuscat, Sunglo and Carina currants are more consistent and look really promising this year.

“We had an exceptional 2018 season, and if we don’t get any rain or more really high temperatures, the industry can look forward to another great year.”

Mr King encouraged growers to commence summer pruning if their fruit was almost ripe.

“Don’t wait to start cutting because you could lose out in the long run,” he said.

“If you start too late in the season, there is a greater chance of rain and fruit will dry more slowly, it will be of lower quality, and dehydration costs will be higher.”

Mr King said it was vital for growers to be aware of when summer pruning should finish and drying should begin for each variety on their property.

“The ideal time to finish cutting Carina currants and sultana varieties is the end of February, and the end of the first week of March for Sunmuscat and Sunglo,” he said.

“Under normal harvest conditions, these dates give growers the best chance of successfully drying their fruit sufficiently for harvest and in the most economically viable way.”

Industry future focus of grower forum

New research, market trends, on-farm biosecurity and labour hire are some of the big issues on the agenda for this year’s dried grape industry forum.

Growers and industry representatives from around Sunraysia, Swan Hill and the Riverland will converge in Mildura on Thursday 8 November for the Dried Fruits Australia (DFA) event.

Keynote speaker, National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) chief executive officer Tony Mahar, will talk about major issues affecting the sector.

“Dried Fruits Australia is a valued member of the NFF and worked with us on a number of important initiatives during the year,” Mr Mahar said.

“The NFF has a plan for agriculture to achieve $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030 – up from $63 billion in 2016-2017. To achieve our vision, we have significant work to do over the next 12 years and need the help of our industry, government and boarder community.”

Viticulture researcher Vinay Pagay, who is based at the University of Adelaide, will present on a recent heatwave mitigation trial.

“We evaluated several water-based cooling treatments during heatwaves, and assessed their effect on vine function, yield, and fruit composition,” Dr Pagay said.

“Our results showed that water application can reduce heat stress in vines and maintain acidity in grapes. And the location of water application was an important factor in achieving greater cooling.”

Attendees will also hear from Plant Health Australia’s Susanna Driessen. Dr Driessen will discuss critical biosecurity issues for the dried fruit industry, what is being done to mitigate the risks, and why on-farm biosecurity makes good business sense.

The forum is open to anyone interested in the future of the dried grape industry. It will be held at the Mildura Working Man’s Club from 2pm, following the members only AGM.

For more information, visit www.driedfruitsaustralia.org.au/2018-annual-conference. Contact DFA to register on 5023 5174 or admin@driedfruitsaustralia.org.au.

Funding for dried fruit innovators

Dried grape growers who have an idea to boost production or increase efficiency on the block can now apply for up to $3,000 in funding.

Awarded annually, the Dried Fruits Australia (DFA) Innovation Grants recognise the creativity and ingenuity of growers.

DFA chairman Mark King said the organisation had contributed almost $10,000 towards four innovative projects since launching the program in 2015.

“The projects are all very different, but they all have the potential to advance Australia’s dried grape industry,” Mr King said.

“Last year we awarded grants to two deserving projects. One went to John and Jennie Lory, who are trialling a new trellis system at their vineyard in Loxton. Larry Dichiera, who works in the industry, also received a grant to mechanise the labour-intensive process of shoot thinning.

“Two growers from Merbein, Stephen and Malcolm Bennett, received a grant for their autonomous vehicle project in 2016. They are passionate innovators and have been developing a robot to do jobs around the vineyard that are normally done with a tractor.”

The fourth round of Innovation Grants is open to growers, or groups of growers, who are members of DFA. Grants are paid on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a maximum of $3,000. For example, a project expected to cost $4,000 will be awarded a $2,000 grant. Projects must meet the following criteria:

  • It may be in progress or have been completed in the past six months. New concepts will also be considered.
  • It must be a new initiative or an improvement on an existing product.
  • It must have demonstrated or show potential to be of significant benefit to the Australian dried grape industry.

Applications close 9 November 2018. For more information, contact DFA on 03 5023 5174 or at admin@driedfruitsaustralia.org.au.

Setting standards in dried fruit production

A new dried grape industry project will compare growers’ viticultural activities over three years to determine the most effective production practices.

The benchmarking project is funded by Dried Fruits Australia (DFA) and Hort Innovation as part of the Dried Grape Innovation and Adoption project.

DFA field officer Stuart Putland said seven producers across Sunraysia – Australia’s primary dried grape growing region – were taking part in the program.

“This is the first time the industry has collected comprehensive information on activities undertaken in the vineyard, documenting what growers did, when they did it, how long it took, and what equipment, chemicals and fertilisers they used,” Mr Putland said.

“The project will compare new varieties, Sunglo and Sunmuscat, and existing currant and sultana varieties grown on the Swingarm trellis system.

“The data captured will provide more accurate benchmarks of viticultural practices, production per hectare, prices received, and input cost.”

Mr Putland said growers would be invited to visit the 10 benchmarking sites at different times over the next three years as part of DFA’s field day program.

“Growers and industry staff had their first opportunity to compare practices at a field walk held at David Lyons’ block in Red Cliffs last week,” he said.

“David and other participants in the project shared how they go about winter pruning, and we discussed what data is being collected about their activities this season.

“At the end of each year, growers will be able to see what these sites have achieved, how their own practices stack up, and if there’s anything they can learn.”

The industry event also included talks by two very different security experts.

Leading Senior Constable Mark Baumann from Mildura Police discussed the risk of farm thefts, prevention measures growers could put in place, and what they should do if they noticed anything suspicious or became a victim of theft.

Amanda Kobelt, an entomologist from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, also spoke about pest and disease risks for the dried grape industry.

Cutting costs in the vineyard

Reducing the cost of winter pruning was the focus of a workshop for the dried grape industry last week.

Hosted by Dried Fruits Australia (DFA), the two-day workshop brought together industry experts and growers to discuss pruning issues and possible solutions.

DFA chairman Mark King said winter pruning was now the most time-consuming operation in the growing season.

“Pruning vines on a 20-hectare dried grape property costs about $13,000 in labour every year,” Mr King said.

“As an industry we need to identify ways of reducing this cost to improve efficiency on the farm and ensure the sector can grow into the future.”

The June 27 and 28 workshop began in the field at Ashley Johnstone’s Irymple dried fruit block.

Michael Treeby, a senior research scientist in horticulture at Agriculture Victoria, gave the group a lesson in vine physiology before Mr Johnstone spoke about his current pruning operations.

The rest of the workshop took place at Agriculture Victoria in Irymple, where participants heard from specialists in robotics, engineering and machinery production.

Vision Robotics co-founder Tony Koselka Skyped in from California to discuss his experience developing a robotic pruning system, and Trigg Industries director Rodney Trigg spoke about the production of specialist machinery for the dried fruit industry.

Jasper Brown from the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems at University of Sydney talked about what is currently happening in the field of robotics and how the technology could be applied to the dried grape industry.

University of South Australia mechanical engineering professor John Fielke was also on hand to discuss simple ways of solving problems in the agriculture industry.

The event was funded through DFA and the Hort Innovation Dried Grape Fund using the dried grape R&D levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

Preserving a century of horticultural history

Historic materials dating back to the early days of the dried fruits industry in Australia will soon be preserved for future generations.

Dried Fruits Australia (DFA) was awarded a $7,860 local history grant from the Public Record Office Victoria to undertake the conservation project.

DFA chief executive officer Anne Mansell said the organisation had collected valuable industry memorabilia over the past century.

“The dried grape industry has a long and memorable history, established in the Mildura region by the Chaffey brothers in the 1890s,” Ms Mansell said.

“Since Dried Fruits Australia began representing the interests of growers more than 110 years ago, it has accumulated a vast array of materials including photographs and video footage, newspaper clippings, meeting documentation and industry reports.

“They are all reflective of this once-dominant industry and of the people who have provided leadership and vision.”

Ms Mansell said the project would ensure the materials were maintained and shared by the industry and community.

“Most dried grapes are still grown around Mildura, and local families will be interested to learn how their forebears helped to shape the region where they live,” she said.

“The industry will also be able to reflect on its history and the important contribution it has made to Mildura and the Australian economy.”

DFA will work with the University of Melbourne Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and Mildura Rural City Council Library Services over the next year to conserve the materials.

The pick of the bunch

Following an ideal dried grape harvest, awarding the best fruit of the season was a challenge.

Dried Fruits Australia (DFA) will present its annual Dried Fruit Quality Awards this weekend at Mildura Field Days.

Five category trophies will be handed out this year to recognise the growers who produced the best sultanas, currants, raisins, and new-variety grapes Sunmuscat and Sunglo.

An overall winner will also be announced on the main stage at 2.30pm, Saturday 19 May.

DFA Chairman Mark King said processors Sunbeam Foods and Australian Premium Dried Fruits (APDF) submit samples of their highest quality fruit for blind judging.

“An expert panel assesses the entries on colour, size and taste,” Mr King said.

“The dried grapes coming out of Australia’s major growing areas – Sunraysia, Swan Hill and the Riverland – are always of a high standard.

“But this year the weather was very favourable to growers and we had one of our best drying seasons, resulting in excellent quality fruit.” Category winners:

  • Sultanas: Anthony Manno, APDF
  • Currants: Peter Middleton, Sunbeam
  • Raisins: Jeff and Jenny Gadsden, Sunbeam
  • Sunmuscat: Peter Melton, APDF
  • Sunglo: Gordon Gardner, APDF

2018 season outlook

The 2018 dried grape harvest is expected to be strong, according to Dried Fruits Australia Chairman Mark King.

“Crops are maturing on time, and the season will begin around the long-term average start date,” Mr King said.

“It looks like the yield will be greater than last year. We’re expecting total dried grape production to be about 20,000 tonnes.

“The sultana crop was down in 2017, but it’s bounced back really well this year.

“The fruit quality should also be very good, with no damage from heat or disease.”

Mr King urged growers to put a harvest plan in place to ensure they wouldn’t get caught out by a rain event.

“Growers should be organised and prepared as we approach harvest, with their harvester and other equipment ready to go, and labour organised,” he said.

“It is important to monitor the weather forecast when fruit is nearing ripeness.

“When fruit is ready to harvest, growers should be ready to start.”

Mr King said dried fruit processors would meet with growers before announcing prices this month.

“Prices are expected to remain the same as last year or increase slightly,” he said.

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