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A burgeoning relationship with a new alliance of Australian avocado growers is helping Woolworths to reduce avocado imports.

By working with The Avolution, a new company bringing together major avocado producers in Western Australia and Queensland, Woolworths will have access to a supply of Australian-grown fruit all year round.

WA avocado producer Jennie Franceschi said growers involved in The Avolution had significant areas of new trees which would come into production in coming years, bolstering local supplies and reducing the need for avocado imports from New Zealand.

“By working together we can all achieve a better result, Jennie said of The Avolution’s supply relationship with Woolworths. “We want to work with retailers to make sure the customer receives the quality of avocado that they are looking for.

Woolworths’National Manager for Produce Paul Harker said some 96 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetables sold in Woolworths stores is Australian grown, with the company sourcing local product wherever possible.

“Australia produces the best fruit and vegetables in the world and that’s why Woolworths always looks locally for fresh, high-quality produce, Paul said. “It is only in lines where sufficient volumes are not available that we are forced to look overseas.

“We regularly work with agribusinesses to assist them in to grow their industries so that we can supply our customers with Australian-grown fruit and vegetables and to reduce the need for imports.

Prior to The Avolution, Jennie Franceschi had supplied Woolworths for four years with fruit from her business, Advance Packing and Marketing Services (APMS). The fruit was sold at supermarkets throughout WA and sometimes into South Australia.

This year her operation, which draws on supplies from her own orchards near Manjimup plus 40 other WA growers, will pack 1.2 million trays of avocados and employ 50 people in the process.

APMS growers planted a further 30,000 trees (mainly the Hass variety) last year and the company has invested heavily in a state-of-the-art packing facility to cope with the growing supply.

“We built our packing shed knowing that the likelihood is that within a few years we’ll be packing 3 million trays a year here in Manjimup, Jennie said.

“And with the size of current supply group for The Avolution, and anticipating that more growers will probably become involved, I would estimate that within a few years The Avolution could be packing in excess of 5 million trays of fruit each year.

Picking in WA begins in October and continues through until March and April. The Queensland members of The Avolution located near Bundaberg pick through until August, while the Toowoomba growers keep harvesting late into the calendar year.

The grower alliance was formed to simplify and centralise the marketing of their avocados, allowing the farmers to concentrate on what they do best.

At APMS that quest for quality has involved a paddock to plate cooperative management system, with the company providing each farmer with agronomy advice and managing a fully recorded supply chain and quality assurance system.

After picking fruit are cooled to 10-12 degrees to remove the field heat from the fruit. They are then taken out of cool storage for approximately 1-2 hours for packing, before being returned to cold storage at 5-6 degrees.

The fruit is kept at this temperature until the fruit reaches a ripening facility where temperatures are raised, triggering a natural response from the fruit.

“Avocados will mature on the tree but they will not ripen on the tree, Jennie said. “They do not start ripening until after they are picked.

“That’s why the temperature control is crucial – spikes in temperature can trigger the ripening process and once that process starts it shouldn’t be interrupted because it will affect fruit quality.

“Refrigerating semi-ripe fruit will result in grey flesh, but once a fruit is fully firm ripe it can be cut and stored safely in the fridge.

“So an efficient picking, packing and distribution process is vital because the more time that we can provide the ripening facilities, the better the fruit will be and the longer it will last in its ‘firm ripe’ state for consumers.

Quality control from orchard to store

At Advance Packing and Marketing Services data-management software records all facets of production and supply, allowing traceability of an individual piece of fruit back to the area of the orchard where it was grown.

Detailed farm information is recorded including how old each tree is, where it is planted, the tree spacings in the orchard, the root stock used, tree health ratings, leaf and soil analysis. In the packing shed each bin of fruit is bar-coded, which links fruit back to the block where it was grown.

“We can then report back to growers on the fruit size and yield profile, the proportion of fruit graded premium or non-premium, and compare that to the shed average so each farmer can analyse their performance and improve the management of their farm accordingly, Jennie said.

“For example, if fruit are too big it can indicate that too much nitrogen was applied at fertiliser time, and this can result in fruit ripening too quickly and not staying ‘firm ripe’ for as long.
“It’s about having a healthy tree and sustainable orchard and a bottom line that is sustainable so that our growers can continue to be successful.

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