Koala Cherries is based in Yarck, in north east Victoria.
Today, cousins Michael (Mick) and Simon Rouget own and operate this third generation cherry growing, packing and marketing business. They farm more than 200 hectares of cherries across three locations: Cobram, Yarck/Alexandra and Strathbogie.
Their packing shed at Yarck employs around 150 staff when grading and packing both their own produce and contract packing for other growers.
We asked Simon to define success and their major risks to achieving it.
“With cherry growing it’s all about minimising risk”. He explains the key metrics around profitability come back to yield, fruit size, pack out and price. Talking with Simon it’s clear they have identified their key risks. Spring frost, poor pollination weather during bloom, access to irrigation water, pests and disease, and too much rain at harvest time are their largest risks in producing cherries. “Remove risk where you can”.
Koala Cherries supplies Coles supermarkets, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane wholesale markets and a number of export markets demanding high standards.
“Our aim is to supply premium cherries every week of the cherry season.”
Cherries are most susceptible to frost injury during the period between bud swell and shuck fall. Blossoms and small green fruit are susceptible even to a light frost. At bloom time cherry blossoms can only withstand temperatures of -2°C for half an hour. Nearly all flowers are killed at -4°C.
“It’s a fine line between too cold and OK”, continues Simon. “A light frost can cause the skin to crack which later manifests itself as a scar. Cherries are a pretty risky crop. Without frost protection on some of our blocks, the risk would be too high. I would say 90 percent of the time, fans will save your crop.”
Mick is involved with the Cherry Growers Association and is a national representative on the export working group helping to maximise access to overseas markets. Mick and Simon regularly travel overseas to investigate new methods and varieties. You can learn a lot traveling, sometimes it’s just as important to learn what not to do as well. “Frost fans are very common in some regions we visit in the US.”
Koala Cherries has a shed door retail outlet offering fresh cherries, preserves and cherry gifts and is open from 9am – 5pm, 7 days a week during the cherry season. For more details go to www.kco.com.au