The West

A passion for avos
Picture: Iain Gillespie

As a fourth-generation Southern Forests farmer, Stewart Ipsen has seen everything from sheep and cattle to apples, cauliflowers, potatoes and broccoli grown on the family's land - but his current passion lies with avocados.

On a co-owned property west of Pemberton, he has set up and runs a 91ha 30,000 tree orchard, which on a good year produces 350,000-400,000 5.5kg trays of mostly Hass-variety fruit.

"I'm the fourth generation in agriculture from our family," he said. "My great-grandfather pioneered Mayfield, the family's farm, from virgin forest in the early 1900s, originally running cattle and sheep and then adding apple orchards.

"The apples were removed in the early 1970s and my father and uncle moved into producing horticulture crops including potatoes, cauliflowers and broccoli. We still run cattle but our main focus now is producing avocados.

"We planted our first avocado trees at Mayfield in 1996 and from there, expanded down to Pemberton (their current location) in 2003."

Mr Ipsen, whose brother also grows avocados in the area, said the region's good rainfall, rich soil and dry summer made for ideal growing conditions.

All the fruit was picked by hand from the ground or using cherry pickers and during peak harvest times, up to 40 backpackers and locals were hired, he said.

"The dry summer months during which we harvest helps to produce fruit which has a very low incidence of anthracnose, which is the main cause of internal defects in avocados," he said.

"Our main competitors during the harvest window, New Zealand, don't have this advantage.

"This dry Mediterranean climate also keeps problem insects away allowing us to produce fruit using virtually no insecticides.

"Avocados will grow in a variety of soil types but they require large volumes of good water - up to 150 litres per day per tree during the summer months.

"The Pemberton region is renowned for its high rainfall. Our farm averages 1200mm per year which helps to fill large irrigation dams on the property.

"The soil consists of deep karri loams which support the large karri trees which surround the farm and which avocado trees also thrive on."

Pemberton grower Russell Delroy started growing avocados in 1987 and from humble beginnings has become one of the biggest growers and suppliers in the country.

Mr Delroy, who grew up on a wheat/sheep farm in Esperance, said his 180ha Pemberton orchard produced 16 million Hass avocados last year, rising to 24 million pieces when the fruit he sourced and packed for other growers in the area were added.

Delroy Orchards, was responsible for around half the total quantity of avocados produced in WA, with the fruit from Southern Forests' growers accounting for more than half of WA's $90 million avocado industry.

"The South West of WA has a really good reputation for growing a very high-quality, consistent product - good flavour, good shelf life and much better internal quality," Mr Delroy said.

"The brilliant thing about avocados is that there are very few meals you can't use them in from breakfast and lunch to dinner.

"They just hit the sweet spot and tick all the boxes for convenience, health and taste."

The West Australian

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