NORTH Queensland’s achacha experiment began when plantation manager Bruce Hill was in Bolivia with a Bolivian friend who kept praising this almost unknown fruit grown in low lying areas of that country.
Bruce told the North Queensland Register he was initially suspect of his friend’s praise as there was not even a referral to the fruit on the internet.
“I thought, how can any fruit unknown to the international community be of any significance? But after being given some to try I was so surprised,” Mr Hill said. He then made up his mind to import the seeds and grow the fruit commercially in Australia
But the Bolivian government treated such crops as something akin to national heritage and it took several years going through that countries bureaucracy to finally be given a license to grow the fruit commercially outside of Bolivia.
It has result is so far 16,000 bearing trees at the Palm Creek Achacha Plantation 30km south of Townsville. This is some sort of achievement considering that in Bolivia there are only an estimated 6000 trees growing in small holdings of 100-200 trees.
The achacha are grown in a chemical free environment and Bruce hopes the orchard will gain bio-dynamic certification this coming year.
The trees are fertilised with purely organic material such as kelp, boiled and fermented casuarina needles and a fermented mixture containing cow manure. Some of it is sprayed onto the tress and some applied via fertigation.
He said he expected the crop this year to be in excess of 200 tonnes and when you consider that the trees mature around 40 years of age, this plantation has a lot more production increase to come.
One of the big plusses with the marketing of achacha is that after ripening, the fruit can remain on the tree for up to three months and still be able to be picked, packed and marketed as the market demands The ideal time for picking is between 1-2 months after ripening. It also has a very long shelf life. Achacha should not be refrigerated at this causes discoloration of the skin.
Being a chemical-free operation, the opportunity to produce honey within the orchard presented itself and Bruce had a local be keeper install hives in the orchard from which is harvested achacha honey. Achacha honey has a unique and beautiful taste
Although the trees are capable of growing to 10 metres, at Palm Creek they are kept to 3.5 metres for ease of harvesting which is done by hand by local fruit pickers, back packers and wwoofers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms).
The fruit is taken to a packing shed where it is washed and the marked and unsaleable fruit is removed and returned to the paddock as fertiliser. This usually equates to 20-30 per cent of the crop. The remainder is graded into1st and 2nd grade with the 1st grade into large, medium and chicos (small) sizes via a conveyor belt then packed into 5kg trays for shipment to markets.
The Palm Creek Plantation sends 1.5 tonnes per fortnight to markets in Europe at a cost of $3.50/kg in freight alone. The achacha sell for £40/kg at Harrods and £2 for four fruit at Marks and Spencers.
Sydney is the plantations biggest market in Australia followed by Brisbane and Melbourne. The return to the plantation from the Australian market is around $5/kg for the 2nd grade fruit and $8 for 1st grade fruit.
Plantation manager Bruce Hill said North Queenslanders are now starting to realise what a beautifully tasting new fruit they have in their community.
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