The West

Its producing the goods
Picture: Iain Gillespie

Next time you bite into an apple, slice an avocado, or mash a potato, chances are it was grown in WA's Southern Forests, a picturesque, fertile region 300km south-west of Perth that's earning a reputation for top-quality food.

With 80,000ha of farmland and about 8000ha of crop plantings, it produces nearly 40 per cent of the State's potatoes, 50 per cent of its apples, 70 per cent of its avocados and 90 per cent of its broccoli, not to mention 85 per cent of the southern hemisphere's black truffles for a total gross agricultural value of more than $150 million a year.

It's home to the internationally famous Pink Lady apple, which is grown around Manjimup, and has nurtured one of Australia's youngest and most exciting wine regions in the heart of karri country, Pemberton, where the rich, loamy soil supports more than 40 vineyards.

Much of the agricultural and pastoral land is worked by third and fourth-generation farmers, who have joined forces in a 190-member Southern Forests Food Council, which was founded in 2010, followed by the Genuinely Southern Forests brand launch last November to identify produce from Manjimup, Pemberton, Northcliffe and Walpole. Fresh off the mark are Karri Country Potatoes, grown in the rich, red earth of Manjimup and Pemberton, and one of the first regional products to meet the SFFC's standards for fresh, premium local produce.

"There are people like Kim Edwards, who grows Chinese cabbages - he's fourth generation - and Al Blakers, who's pretty much a pioneer of truffles; his family has been in the region for more than 100 years," Allen Burtenshaw, SFFC executive officer, said. "But we've got new people coming as well. Just in the past 12 months, a strawberry- raspberry grower from Bullsbrook has set up an additional farm in Pemberton because he's seen the soil and conditions, which are optimum for what he does.

"I've just experienced my first cherry season and can't believe the quality. What a lot of people don't realise is that it's all grown in pristine conditions and has just been missed on the radar for so long," Mr Burtenshaw said.

"But with more and more consumers wanting to understand where their food comes from and how it's produced, the region is becoming a pretty compelling proposition."

SFFC chairman and plum grower Bevan Eatts described Southern Forests as "WA's premier food bowl" and said the ultimate aim was to establish it as an "internationally recognised culinary tourism destination."

A third-generation farmer working land established by his grandfather in 1946, he believed the Genuinely brand encompassed everything Southern Forests did best, with its multicultural and multi-generational community priding itself on its produce. "The beauty of this area is you can grow just about anything and there's such an incredible variety," he said.

"We want to strengthen regional pride; we want people, when they go to the supermarket, to know our brand and know the produce from this region is well grown with care to an extremely high standard. We don't have a lot of pests and diseases because of our isolation, which is largely the reason hardly anyone knows about us.

"Hopefully, now, when people see the Genuinely stickers on produce in stores they will connect the dots and buy it."

The West Australian

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