22 March 2024

Batlow apple harvest in full swing as a new apple called Swing prepares for market

| Edwina Mason
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carthel family of Batlow

It’s apple picking season up in the high-altitude orchards of Batlow, a business the Cathels family – Ian, Hannah and Rob Cathels (pictured) – have been involved in since 1967. Ardrossan Orchards is one of the most enterprising orchards in the region, producing conventionally grown apples while also trialling organic varieties. Photo: Hannah Cathel.

The high-altitude apple orchards of Batlow are abuzz, with harvest in full swing and the news a blushing new organic variety is getting the thumbs up in early trials.

With Gala and now Kanzi apples already swinging off the trees and into bins, the mood has shifted from unease, accompanying late summer heatwaves, to confidence as the cooler autumn weather makes good on the region renowned for this fruit.

But there’s been another shift as apple production expands into new varieties for we Aussies who love them apples so much; in fact, by 2026 we’re expected to be consuming 291,000 metric tonnes of them.

The Cathels family have been growing apples on their farm Ardrossan Orchards in Batlow since 1967 after founder David Cathels, who had purchased the Sydney-based wholesale company N&A Fruit Distributors in 1956, began travelling to the region to visit growers.

He became so fond of it, he decided to buy an already proven former soldier settler orchard block and today Ardrossan Orchards spans five properties throughout the Batlow and Tumut region, with about 100 hectares of land under production and employing up to 50 local staff year-round.

Several members of permanent staff have been working there for more than 20 years, with one local picker reaching his 30th year of picking with Ardrossan Orchards last year.

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The Cathels grow conventional and organic apples with around 10 per cent of Ardrossan Orchards’ apple production now certified organic, funnelling directly to retailers and their company’s ODP (Organics Direct Produce) wholesale floor in Sydney.

The orchard’s production methods are evolving ahead of the curve and with learnings from organic berry crops naturally transitioning to the apple orchards over a six-year period, they achieved full certification for some of their Royal Gala blocks three years ago.

Second-generation farmer, Ian Cathels, believes this is their best crop of organic Gala yet and owes this to the mostly warm and dry conditions over summer with good rainfall.

And they’re looking way ahead.

Since going through the organic conversion process, Ian has applied particular organic production techniques such as tree management, monitoring and nutritional programs to their conventional orchard blocks where possible.

Ian’s guiding principle is that a healthy tree provides the best crop protection, with the aim to achieve effective pest control using only organic methods throughout their entire conventional orchard.

They also have new varieties – well suited to organic production – in development, which will go into the ground in commercial volumes this winter.

One such variety is N&A’s exclusive Swing apple, with trials going ahead this season as volumes grow closer to full commercialisation.

“Swing is a really exciting new apple we have in development,” says Rob Cathels. “It has been received well by all our customers initially during previous trials.”

Swing apples are picked later in the season and have robust and hardy genetic qualities that lend themselves ideally to low input or organic production methods, Rob explained.

“It looks great and eats beautifully. We are really getting behind this variety, with our first commercial scale plantings going in the ground this year,” he says.

Other varieties in the pipeline include Isaaq, Ruby Frost, Sunrise Magic and Snapdragon in partnership with the Fruit Australia consortium of growers.

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In the region with the apple that put Batlow on the map, the path back from 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires has been a slow plod, with some orchards still waiting to return to full production.

“A newly planted apple orchard takes several years to reach maturity, and we are now four years on since the bushfires so there are certainly still parts of our orchard that are recovering and have yet to reach pre-bushfire production volumes,” says Hannah.

Beyond the orchard gate, interest in the region – particularly with the introduction of events like the Batlow Cider Fest – has drawn bigger crowds year on year which has helped boost local tourism and hospitality.

What will also pique interest from outside Batlow are the live feeds from the Ardrossan orchards.

Hannah says the cameras are used throughout the company’s distribution and markets facilities in Sydney for security.

“And we wanted to give visitors to our website a real-time insight into our orchard and the Batlow region,” she says.

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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