Diaco Fresh grow citrus, stonefruit and pome fruit across four locations in Cobram and Berrigan, Victoria and NSW.
They have recently completed construction of a new state-of-the-art packing shed facility in Cobram with an impressive 92m x 109m footprint and supply Woolworths under the Sun Country Fresh label.
Diaco Fresh bought the Mowbray block from a potato grower in 2009 and first planted it with oranges, mandarins and lemons two years later. Angelo Diaco explains how they worked closely with Australian Frost Fans on the project from the start.
“Twenty Data loggers were used during the winter of those two years to capture night-time temperatures so we really understood what was going on – both at ground level and at 9 metres (from where the frost fans draw their air).”
A severe winter frost will kill a juvenile citrus tree. With this in mind (and armed with the data logging information collected over the previous two winters), the first installation of six fans was strategically placed to protect juvenile trees in the coldest sections of the property.
Two years later, another three machines were installed to extend the protection over trees which were expected to produce fruit for harvest.
“We’ve now got nine FrostBoss® C49 fans at Mowbray with more going in this year to protect the orchard as it comes into production. Out at Mowbray, the fans did their job running for over 100 hours last winter to prevent frost injury on the citrus. The previous season, when it was colder, some machines clocked up 270 hours.”
Angelo recalls the major frosts of 2007-8 and 1998 when they had consecutive mornings of -8°C. That year they lost their lemon crop but managed to save the trees.
“If it wasn’t for putting in the frost fans, we would have lost not only the fruit but many entire trees. Two nights in a row at -8°C still saw us lose much of the crop – even with frost fans running – but the trees were spared and the following year we harvested a full crop. Prior to installing the fans, severe winter frosts would see trees taking three or more years to return to full production.
Frost fans are an insurance policy. By saving the trees and giving us a full crop that second year, they paid for themselves straightaway,” explains Angelo.
They tried to use water prior to installing fans. But for citrus, “it just doesn’t work in the middle of winter because the sprinklers freeze.”
Growing stonefruit provides many challenges. “This season crop yields and prices are down after a mild winter with not enough chill hours on the stonefruit or apples. We’re happy that the frost fans on our stonefruit, however, made sure that the smaller volume of fruit that did develop was well protected through the spring.”
Next up, Diaco Fresh are looking at growing avocados and maybe persimmons. Both are susceptible to frost injury with one grower in nearby Barooga losing more than 85 per cent of his persimmon crop when temperatures dropped to below zero in mid-October 2013. “If we go down that track, we’ll be needing more frost fans”, says Angelo.