The bane of existence for fruit growers around the world is weather. Too sunny, too rainy, too hot or too cold; orchards are particularly susceptible to subtle changes in climate. A few wet weeks during growing season can make the difference between a bumper crop and a failed harvest. Tasmania’s Reid Fruits have come up with an innovative solution which could herald an end to this blight.
Back in 1856, Irish settler to Australia, James Reid, decided to build an orchard on a previously unconquered frontier of the island state of Tasmania. Trekking back of forth from his property each day to attend casual work, Reid toiled tirelessly to establish his apple orchard and realise his dream for this beautiful part of the world. Expanding into a new property, and cracking into the cherry market, Reid Fruits as they are now known, are one of the largest suppliers of cherries in Australia. 160+ years of pioneering spirit and commitment to innovation have served the Reid family well, and the company have recently invested in a game-changing addition to their orchard infrastructure in the form of a 40,000m2 retractable roof.
Four hectares of cherry trees on the Jericho property will be subject to a trial of the portable greenhouse-like structure, which managing director Tim Reid hopes will extend their marketing season well into February; a full month later than many other orchards on the island. Unlike other low-lying properties, the Reid’s new cherry orchard sits at much higher altitudes. While their harvest is extended, the altitudes do pose the risk of frost damage and other maladies caused by the cooler temperatures. The greenhouse will safeguard the crops against these effects, while maintaining the economic advantage of a later season-end.
Reid and company had been investigating crop-protection technology for some time, but found that most options are not able to open and close quickly enough, and their closed designs can create issues with humidity. Finally, coming across the trial by Canadian manufacturer Cravo at Michigan State University, using a retractable and mechanised greenhouse roof, the Reid’s had found their answer. While the cost of this solution is higher per hectare than other variations, the technology provides clear benefits to the farm.
Encouraging innovation in farming, the Australian government offered a grant to Reid Fruits to help cover the large investment. Almost half of the $2.4 million cost was covered by the government’s grant, which meant that not only was the project possible for the company, but was also worthwhile financially, over time. By protecting against possible crop failures, and extending the growing season, the Cravo greenhouse may be seen across farms throughout Tasmania and the rest of Australia within a matter of years. Tim Reid expects to see results from his newly-planted cherry crop over the next three years, after which, the results of the trial will be shared with keen observers both nationally and internationally.
“I’m sure you’re going to see more and more of this sort of horticultural development around that water scheme,” he said.
One of the largest markets for cherries is in Japan, where the gift-giving season of December is often celebrated by exchanging fruits between family members, colleagues and even clients. Reid Fruits have broken into the Japanese market with huge success, and are now taking on the elite Seoul market in Korea. Over their many, many years of operation, Reid Fruits have been important employers in the Tasmanian region. Extending their cherry season, and breaking into new markets is set to create an even stronger source of income to local workers, travelling fruit-pickers and the health of the industry alike.