Managing 1,000 tonne of fruit in the recent cherry season, Fiona hasn’t had the time to think about the eventful year ahead until now.
“I’m really excited about the opportunities the Nuffield Scholarship presents,” Fiona said. “Essentially, I’ll get to study ways to close the gap between producer and retailer profits and plan to use the information gathered to further strengthen the Australian market.”
Fiona is managing director of BiteRiot Operations, a holistic cherry growing, packing and marketing operation with a team of 22 growers located in Central NSW. The business supports growers from agronomy to harvesting, marketing and reporting back to growers. In the 2013/14 season, BiteRiot Operations handled 1000 tonne of fruit, equating to 10 per cent of the Australian crop. The company exports 60 per cent of the crop to Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Dubai and Russia, with the balance going to domestic supermarkets.
Fiona & Bernard Hall also grow apples over four properties located around Orange and two cold storage properties where they pack market apples for themselves and other growers under their ‘BiteRiot’ brand.
She will use her Nuffield Scholarship to investigate how to close the gap between farmgate and retail returns in the apple and cherry industries.
“Our industry adds three times the value of our crop in packing, processing and sorting – I want to look at how we can achieve more value at the farmgate for producers. To understand this I need to study how large packhouses rationalise, streamline, become more transparent, value-add, improve packing, market, use real-time reporting and of course innovate,” she says.
Fiona believes part of the solution is developing an export culture to ensure a sustainable future for growers.
“The industry is under a lot of cost pressure, particularly labour, and to be able to grow we need to take advantage of the opportunities of our clean, green and safe reputation and our location in Asia.
With considerable experience in exporting of cherries, I would like to implement similar strategies into our apple operations,” she explains.
Fiona will visit the UK, USA, China and New Zealand during her studies.
Supported by Horticulture Australia Limited and the Australian Government, the Apple and Pear Australia Limited is also supporting Fiona’s Nuffield Scholarship as part of its strategic plan to encourage the development of future leaders in horticulture and export expertise.
Nuffield Australia is an organisation, which provides an opportunity to Australian farmers to travel overseas on an agricultural research scholarship.