Grower profile – Ian McAlister, Sunfruit Orchards, VIC
Ian McAlister grew up in the world of Australian summerfruit and while he’s loved everything about the way he makes his living to date, he’s particularly keen to see what the future holds.
“The most exciting thing in the immediate future for stonefruit growers is the direct market access to China for nectarines that we’ve recently gained,” said Ian, who is chairman of Australia’s Summer Fruit Export Alliance. “I’ve spent the last 13 years working towards that very goal.”
Hopefully this is just the beginning of doors opening, he said, noting that efforts to ensure access for the other three stonefruit categories now need a push. “Access to as many new markets as possible will only be positive for the industry as a whole, considering we currently have a domestic oversupply situation that means unsustainable, low prices,” Ian said.
Market changes are just one of the things that keep Ian’s summerfruit interest fired. “I love the daily challenges that the industry brings, from the weather right down to the pests – and I always have,” he said.
And Ian does mean ‘always’. When he was just one year old his father, Harold, moved the family to the Tresco West area of Victoria and it wasn’t long before their first commercial apricots were planted. “I started daily work on the property when I was 17, and spent many years marketing the family produce in the Melbourne Wholesale Market,” Ian said. “Then, when I was 40, I took over ownership of the property and rapidly expanded it.”
Today Sunfruit Orchards grows 153 hectares of fruit. While Ian specialises in apricots, he also grows peaches, plums and nectarines, plus some wine grapes for good measure.
Like other growers, Ian says fruit fly is a threat that remains top of mind in his business. “Fruit fly is the biggest immediate threat facing growers at the moment. It’s a notoriously difficult pest to manage and eradicate, especially with the loss of traditional chemicals and changes in control responsibilities from government to individual land holders.”
As a member of the summerfruit industry’s Strategic Investment Advisory Panel, Ian said he was looking forward to continued research into the pest. “I’d like to see more research aimed at achieving on-farm results for the direct benefits of stonefruit growers in the fruit fly space, and also new chemical research,” he said.
The best bit about industry R&D is being able to see direct, implementable outcomes, Ian said. “For example the recent summerfruit research on low-dose methyl bromide is a fantastic piece of research that will actually have direct impacts on how summerfruit growers conduct business. The industry’s work into Carpophilus beetle and the brown rot project have had positive impacts on the industry, too.”
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