Little fruit grow into big dollars

Jim McNamara. PICTURE: John Russell.
Jim McNamara. PICTURE: John Russell.

KIWI-fruit growing is a major industry for Whorouly.

Long-time grower Jim McNamara, 56, has about five hectares near the Ovens River just east of the town.

There are three properties growing the highly sought-after fruit on 14 hectares making it one of three major regions in Victoria.

Mr McNamara said in recent years the three properties have harvested about 2000 bins, just under 1000 tonnes with gross sales of about $2 million.

But there are big costs -- production and packaging alone could be as much as $300,000 to $350,000.

Harvest starts at the end of March or early April.

"There are 35 to 40 working in the packing shed and about 20 pickers," Mr McNamara said.

"That runs for about five weeks."

There are six people employed full time on the three farms.

"We all work in together with our marketing," Mr McNamara said.

"There is a lot of labour involved and it is high input, high return, but high risk."

The biggest threat comes from hailstorms.

Most of last season's crop was sold to Coles in NSW and Woolworths in Victoria.

"We sold about 70 per cent to them last year," Mr McNamara said.

The product was once exported, but that stopped about five or six years ago through increasing regulations imposed by federal government authorities.

At its peak five or six 40-foot containers were exported to Taiwan daily.

Mr McNamara's vines were planted in 1982.

They were some of the first vines planted in Victoria.

The crop at Whorouly is usually a month to five weeks ahead of produce coming on the market from New Zealand.