Wednesday, 2 February 2022: Woolworths has awarded a $414,000 grant to a family-owned South Australian organic date farm to help increase the availability of locally-grown dates in the heavily import-reliant market.
The grant to Gurra Downs Date Company is part of a total of $1,140,000 in funding for organic growers from the latest round of the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund.
Located in South Australia’s Riverland region, Gurra Downs Date Company is run by Dave, Anita and Shaun Reilly. The Reilly family have been growing organic produce for more than 30 years, planting salt-tolerant date trees in the early 1990s in a move to adapt to irrigation water drawn from the Gurra Gurra Wetlands.
While dates are growing in popularity among Australian consumers, local supply remains limited with the domestic market relying on imported dates from countries like Mexico and USA to meet demand.
The grant will see the Reilly’s packhouse receive a power upgrade and new equipment to help wash, dry, grade and sort the fruit, reducing extensive manual labour and increasing their overall production capacity.
Gurra Downs Date Company’s Dave Reilly said: “We can get the fruit off the trees quickly but when we get into the packhouse everything slows down as we don’t have the right equipment to process rapidly.
“The grant from Woolworths will help us develop a packing facility with processing equipment that can efficiently handle higher volumes and create value-add opportunities for our fruit.
“Expanding our production capabilities will see more Australian-grown organic Medjool dates being consumed by Australian families, just like mine.”
The grant also marks the beginning of a new partnership which will see Gurra Downs dates stocked in select Woolworths stores.
Woolworths’ Commercial Director of Fruit & Veg, Paul Turner said: “We’re proud to be backing family-owned Australian businesses who are sowing the seeds to help meet the demand for organic produce in the years ahead.
“Over the last three years, demand for organic fruit and vegetables has increased by around 30 per cent, as customers become more interested in where their food comes from and how it’s grown.
“We will always choose Australian fruit and veg first. By supporting local growers like the Reillys, we can help customers put more Australian produce into their shopping baskets each week.”
The Woolworths Organic Growth Fund has also provided a $500,000 interest-free loan to Victorian business Butler Market Greens – building on an almost 50-year-long supply partnership with the Butler family. The loan will help the business double its organic production and increase water efficiency through irrigation upgrades and expansion.
Butler Market Gardens’ Rick Butler said: “Sustainability is at the core of what Butler Market Gardens is all about and today’s customers are more interested than ever in ensuring their food is grown in an environmentally-friendly way.
“We believe organic farming is inherently sustainable, and we’re pleased this grant will also help us conserve natural resources through water efficiency.
“This is a great opportunity for our business and one of the many reasons we’re proud to be a long term partner of Woolworths.”
Adelaide Hills business SA Organic Strawberries received a $232,000 grant from Woolworths' Organic Growth Fund to install packing shed technology that helps cools strawberries quickly, extracting heat once they're picked to retain quality and extend shelf-life for customers.
Round six of the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund is now open and Woolworths is inviting farmers to apply by 28 February 2022.
Mr Turner concluded: “To date we have invested millions of dollars into 17 established and transitioning organic farms across Australia. We’re currently looking for the next crop of Australian farmers who we can partner with to boost long term organic supply in Australia. We’re keen to hear from organic growers with plans to expand and conventional farmers looking to convert.”
The Woolworths Organic Growth Fund was established in 2018 in partnership with Heritage Bank - one of Australia’s largest customer-owned banks - to provide financial grants and interest-free loans to support organic fruit and vegetable production. Any interest-free loans awarded through the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund are issued by Heritage Bank.