Everything’s apples | Rabobank Australia Client
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#ThankAFarmer: Everything’s apples at Perivale Orchards

 

Whether it’s on a gas platform, in the mine fields or in the comfort of home, people everywhere could be eating apples grown by the Dilley family on their orchards south of Donnybrook in Western Australia.

Husband and wife, Steve and Rosie Dilley, and Steve’s brother, Quentin, and his wife Margaret, have been growing apples on Perivale Orchards – predominantly the Pink Lady™ variety – for more than 30 years, on a property pioneered by their family since 1928

Along the way they have always forged close relationships with the backpackers they employ for their annual harvest, a relationship that saw them all coming together as a family during COVID-19.

“While they are on the farm, we treat them as family, and you get that back. We were taught by Dad that you should never ask your employees to do something that you would not do yourself," Steve said.

"When you treat people well and with respect, they’ll go the extra mile and work really hard for you. "

But with harvest coming at the same time as COVID-19, this year it was the Dilleys who really went the extra mile for their workers.

With May being the prime month for harvesting, Steve and Quentin brought their backpackers on board earlier than usual to ensure they were safe on the farm before picking began, and they even stayed on for a while after harvest.

“We have about 20 employees during the peak season and we rely heavily on backpackers from overseas for picking,” Steve said.

“This year, we had 16 backpackers from France, Germany, and Britain, plus a crew of six local people who are crucial during harvest.

“We start picking our first variety in early February, there’s not a lot in March, then we start to ramp up in April picking Granny Smith and Fuji apples. But our big month is always May when we must get about 1000 bins of Pink Lady™ off the trees and into the cold stores within four weeks.

“We had about half our crew of backpackers living on the farm in mid-March, but we needed double that amount for May.

Rosie Dilley shopping for her backpackers

Rosie Dilley loading up with groceries to feed their backpackers.

“With COVID-19, we decided to get the other backpackers on the farm before the end of March. We needed to reduce the risk for them and our business and get them here safe and keep them safe.”

That included setting up an account at their local IGA store, with Steve’s wife and one of his daughters doing the grocery shopping for the team of backpackers every week.

“Living in isolation on the farm, they had everything they wanted. Because we were our own little community, we did some social activities like burger nights with burgers, chips, and a few beers,” Steve added.

“They are terrific young people and it’s always sad to see them go when we finish.”

The Dilleys grow approximately 1,000 tonnes of apples per year on about 18 hectares and taking such good care of their workers meant they were also able to get the crop off in good condition and safely into the cold stores for packing later in the year.

“We have our own packing shed and cold storage facility which gives us a lot of flexibility. We are pretty nimble, and we can custom pack whatever our agents require,” Steve said.

Most of their fruit goes to agents in Canning Vale who deal with different markets, including one that supplies to supermarkets, another that supplies to mining camps as well as off-shore gas platforms in the North West Shelf of WA, and other agents who supply to specialist greengrocers.

“When we produce, pack and send a really nice healthy product, we get a real buzz out of it,” Steve said.

“Over many decades now, there has been a growing rural-urban divide around people understanding how and where their food is produced but I think COVID-19 has given consumers, particularly urban consumers a real reality check."

“It has made people realise that the important things in life are their health, family and having available safe locally produced food, not how big your TV is or how many times you’ve been to Bali.”

 

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