Growing Innovation: Issue 18, November 2, 2016

“It’s a case of old land, new tricks”

Chris Stillard, Barooga, NSW

Chris Stillard’s family has been working the land for over a century – and with his keen interest in evolving land management techniques and knowledge, it’s a tradition he hopes will carry long into the future.

“The farm has been in the family since 1904, and I’m the fourth generation of the family to manage it. It’s seen so many changes in its lifetime and, with any luck, will continue to do so,” Chris said.

While Chris also grows 800 tons of hay, dabbles in small grains and finishes lambs and steers on the farm, called “Marboc” (“That’s the name of the town across the river, Cobram, in reverse”), persimmons are his real passion. “I really enjoy the fruit industry. And even though persimmons can be a challenging crop, when you’re doing something you love, it’s not a grind,” he said.

“With persimmons currently it’s a flood and a drought situation,” said Chris. “As a bi-annual crop they’re heavy one year and light the next. We were hit by a bad frost about three years ago when we had about two-thirds of our 3000 trees giving a heavy crop and the rest giving a light crop, but now all the trees are reset. This means we had them all giving a light crop last year, so this year we’re expecting a heavy crop.

“There’s also not a lot known about the agronomy of persimmons like other fruits, because we’re such a small industry. This is another challenge,” Chris said. “It would be great to broaden our knowledge, not only through research and by looking at what’s happening overseas, but also by coming together and really talking to each other, grower to grower. The more growers talk, the more we can get a consistent product presented to the market, too.”

At Marboc, Chris said he’s keen to adopt new techniques and share what he’s learning. “I’ve been playing around with biological soil treatments like some other growers in the industry have. I’ve experimented a little bit with trace element sprays via the leaf, especially molybdenum. I’m getting a very good reaction from it. It’s really visually benefiting the trees.”

Chris said he’s also starting to play around with different trellis techniques for different varieties – but is still in the early stages with this – and has a few ideas for value-adding his secondary fruit.

Looking to the future, Chris sees one of the great opportunities for persimmons is that they aren’t really well known locally. “The market is still small in Australia, but people are slowly getting into persimmons and starting to ask more questions about them, so I think we have some good growth ahead of us,” he said. “And of course the golden egg is export. We’re an off-season fruit for China, so if we could tap into that market the potential would be huge.”

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