Home' Grower : February 2012 Contents Riverland citrus growers
benefit from composting
Humphrey Howie says everything is returned to the soil at Fat
Goose Fruits, including prunings which are mulched. The geese
from the property also eat the culled fruit from the packing
shed and return nutrients to the soil.
Riverland, massive changes
have occurred to the land-
scape. We have seen smaller
growers, who contributed so
much to the vibrancy of small
communities, gradually forced
out by the large, corporate
"In addition, the landscape
is becoming less diverse and
therefore, more susceptible to
economic downturns and cli-
"We wanted to buck that
trend and to add more com-
plexity back the landscape.
Being organic gives us the
opportunity to have more con-
trol of our destiny and be more
in touch with our consumers.
"It also allows us to experi-
ment with our farming systems
and a more diverse range of
plant species. "We always knew
it would be a challenge, but
the benefits to our orchard,
business and us personally has
far outweighed any costs."
By LIZ COTTON
AFOCUS on soil health has led
to healthier fr uit trees,
increased yields and greater via-
bility into the future for Riverland
citrus growers Fat Goose Fruits.
Proprietor Humphrey Howie's fam-
ily have been growers in the Riverland
for more than 100 years on their 26-
hectare property at Renmark.
With his wife Michelle Medhurst,
he runs the organic citrus orchard,
but uncertainty surrounding water
restrictions in recent times has
adversely impacted on the business
and forced it to think outside the
square to maintain viability.
In giving the orchard the best
chance to be around for another cen-
tury, the decision was made to start
from the ground up with a compre-
hensive composting system to pro-
vide maximum soil health.
"Our soils have always been a high
priority for us, and we saw this oppor-
tunity as a way of building up the
quality of the soil to give our fruits
the most balanced environment pos-
sible to thrive in," Humphrey said.
The couple has approached SA com-
post, soil and mulch company Jeffries
to help them create an organic com-
post blend to achieve their goals.
"We use an organic compost con-
taining gypsum and lime, which adds
organic nutrients to the soil and helps
to retain water," Humphrey said.
"This is important for us in the
Riverland where water is a big issue."
During autumn and in late win-
ter/early spring, compost is broad-
cast under the trees, rather than mid-
row, and subsequently watered.
Increasing the fertility of the soil
with compost and cover cropping is
an integral part of improving soil
biology and maintaining tree health.
"Ground cover management is by
continual mowing, grazing by geese
and br ushcutting. Everything is
returned to the soil, including prun-
ings which are mulched. The geese
from the property also eat the culled
fr uit from the packing shed and return
nutrients to the soil," Humphrey said.
"Since converting the orchard to
organic production in 1994, the
results of soil samples taken have spo-
ken for themselves.
"One of the main things we have
noticed is the health of the trees,"
"Another is the much increased lev-
els of organic soil matter and soil life,
including insect activity and micro
flora and fauna.
"Before our composting system was
introduced, the soil was a deep desert
red colour - normal for the region,
however we are now seeing at least 50
millimetres to 75mm of dark top soil,
which has got to be a good sign."
Humphrey and Michelle have con-
verted 75 per cent of their property
into a NAASA-certified organic prop-
erty and they continue to see the
fruits of their labor in the noticeable
changes in fruit and yields. "Despite
challenging seasonal conditions, the
healthier soil has led to healthier trees
and better quality, higher-yielding
fruit. It all starts with the soil."
Fat Goose Fruits also operates in a
sustainable orchard environment, fol-
lowing the incorporation of extensive
native vegetation within the orchard
and the planting of more than 2000
local native trees and shrubs for wind-
breaks and shelter-belts, within frost-
pockets and tree rows.
This has enhanced the biodiversity
of the property and helped with pest
management, soil fertility and aesthet-
"One example of the benefits
achieved through the planting of
natives can be seen where we have
planted wattle in between citr us to
create a canopy that will protect the
trees from the harsh summer heat,"
Making the switch to organic farm-
ing has also helped mitigate against
declining environmental diversity and
allowed the business to tap into new
customers and markets.
"We became organic for many dif-
ferent reasons," Humphrey said.
"In the 100 years since our family
started as fr uit growers in the
The South Australian Grower -- February 2012
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