Industry excellence celebrated at APAL Awards 2019

The apple and pear industry celebrated the exceptional contribution made by industry leaders, growers, marketers, exporters and researchers with the presentation on Monday of its annual Awards for Excellence 2019.

Former APAL managing director and long-time Pink Lady champion Jon Durham, and West Australian orchardist Harvey Giblett, were awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards for their outstanding passion for, dedication to and leadership of the apple and pear industry.

The awards were presented at an Award Breakfast preceding the APAL Industry Forum in Melbourne.

Jason Shields, Orchard Manager for Goulburn Valley-based Plunkett Orchards, was named Grower of the Year; WA orchardist and nurseryman John Hearman, Rising Star; and fellow WA Ladycroft orchard manager Bec Whittaker, recipient of the Women in Horticulture award.

Chris Georgopoulos, GV Independent Packers, was named Exporter of the Year and newly-created awards for Researcher of the Year and Innovative Marketer went to Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture researcher Nigel Swarts, and Andrew Smith, R&R Smith.

Congratulations to all the recipients, who led a very high calibre field of nominees, and a special thanks to everyone who made the effort to nominate a colleague within the industry.


Grower of the Year: Jason Shields, Plunketts Orchards, Victoria

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APAL chair Michele Allan (lt) and CEO Phil Turnbull (rt) with APAL 2019 Grower of the Year Jason Shields, Plunketts Orchard (centre).

Jason has been the Orchard Manager at Plunketts since 2000 and in that time has developed a reputation for excellence, innovation and leadership, turning Plunketts into one of the most innovative and successful orchards in the country. Jason has been one of the leaders in the Future Orchards® program in the Goulburn Valley –  hosting the first orchard walk in 2006 – as well as the Community Orchard Group. His focus on matching profitability to tree management, his research and purchase of harvest platforms towards improving harvest management, lead in integrated pest management and his willingness to share and communicate his knowledge, as well as encourage his staff participation in growers’ events and development, are exemplary.


Lifetime Achiever: Jon Durham, Victoria

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Former APAL managing director Jon Durham’s (centre) massive contribution to industry, facilitating research funding and the Pink Lady brand development was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jon has made a formidable contribution to the apple and pear industry over his lifetime, driving investment in research, the development of the Pink Lady® brand internationally and industry development as head of both APAL and its predecessor, the Australian Apple and Pear Growers Assocation (AAPGA), until 2013. He is still active in industry leadership through the International Pink Lady Alliance (IPLA) and in his role of independent Chair of the National Fruit Fly Council.

Jon guided the Pink Lady brand from its infancy, establishing it as a world powerhouse brand and the first apple to be protected by intellectual property rights. As head of AAPGA, he played a key role in securing funding for research and development by helping establish Horticulture Australia Limited (now Hort Innovation).

APAL’s present strong position owes much to Jon’s work in taking a loose association and building it into the strong and well-financed and professional body it is today.


Lifetime Achiever: Harvey Giblett, Newton Orchards

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Western Australian orchardist and industry leader Harvey Giblett (centre) was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in appreciation of his work and contribution to the apple and pear industry.

Harvey has made an exceptional contribution to his industry and community over the past five. He is a passionate and innovative fruit grower whose drive to succeed has transformed Newton Brothers, Manjimup, from a small family business to a medium-sized corporate enterprise with a strong reputation for progressive fruit growing, storage, packing and marketing with integrity, and widely known for applying the latest innovative technologies in production methods, cool storage, grading, and packing fruit.

Harvey has driven constant revision and improvement of orchard techniques and is always at the forefront of trialling and assisting development of new technologies, including pioneering the locally-developed Cripps Pink and ANABP 01 varieties (marketed at Pink Lady and Bravo® respectively). He has championed efforts to lift the quality standards of apples throught the current WA industry-led Apple Maturity project for Gala, Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples.

Harvey has made a long-standing contribution to industry leadership through his roles on industry groups including the former Fruitwest, its Apple Leadership Group, the WA Apple & Pear Growers Association, Perth Market Authority Board, APAL and its predecessor AAPGA and as chairman of Pomewest.

Harvey is extremely well-respected for his expertise, knowledge-base and altruism, his willingness to disseminate and share valuable information – both among Newton Orchards group of growers, and among competitors within the industry for the “greater good” of Western Australian pome fruit production, and its national and international reputation for premium quality.


Rising Star: John Hearman, Hearman Ag Orchard and Nursery, Western Australia

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Rising Star Award recipient John Hearman, HearmanAg, WA, is attracting a lot of interest in his innovative work with young nursery trees.

John is a young grower who has demonstrated excellence and early leadership through his innovation at orchard level and involvement in industry. John has taken on the lead role at the family-owned business in Donnybrook and in recent years has diversified into growing his own apple trees, establishing a nursery on the property, from which he has begun to supply other growers with high-quality apple trees.

John has implemented an innovative approach, by growing bench-graft apple trees which can be transplanted without the shock that goes along with uplifting bare root trees. The establishment of these trees into new orchards or as fillers into recent plantings at any time of the year shows John’s innovative thinking as trees are fast tracked and established much quicker than bare root trees.

He is innovating at orchard level also, using new planting systems and varieites under net to produce high quality produce.

John’s dedication and passion to the pome fruit industry is evident in his involvement with the family orchard and industry events. He is always a keen supporter of Future Orchards and Pomewest events taking the time to attend and host orchard walks, sharing his experiences and growing techniques.


Exporter of the Year: Chris Georgopoulos, GV Independent Packers, Victoria

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Christian Georgopoulos (centre) accepted Chris’s award on his behalf .

Chris shows exceptional leadership in developing export markets through his commitment to long-term relationships with international buyers and supplying premium fruit.

Chris, and his GVIP partners and staff, have worked hard at developing relationships with buyers and understanding their international customers towards achieving growth in their exports and ongoing success in the global market-place.  They have demonstrated commitment to their markets, despite fluctuations in domestic prices, continuing to supply the best product to build trust and respect as a long-term supplier.

Chris places a high emphasis on the idea of building trust in the safety of the product, and using Australia’s high health and safety standards as a marketable asset for Australian fruit. Integrated pest and disease management is given a high priority to minimise chemical use.

Chris has also demonstrated excellence in industry leadership contributing to industry group and pear committees as well as being a regular attendee at orchard walks and industry events.


Women in Horticulture: Bec Whittaker, Ladycroft Orchard, Manjimup

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Her passion for fruit growing, innovative approach and strong commitment to staff diversity and empowerment saw Bec Whittaker, Ladycroft Orchard, WA, (centre), awarded the Women in Horticulture Award.

Bec manages the Ladycroft Orchard in Manjimup for the Casotti Group which is home to one of the largest plantings in the state of ANABP 01 (Bravo) apples. She has built a reputation for passion and innovation in fruit growing and for championing and empowering her staff. She places high emphasis on empowering her staff through providing greater individual responsibility, support and access to further training. Her enthusiasm spreads throughout the orchard empowering her staff of mainly women to take on the challenges of producing great apples.

Bec is a keen observer of international orchard management developments and is quick to see new ways of growing that can be trialled at Ladycroft orchard. She has been a participant in the last two international APAL study tours (USA and Italy). This has given her the motivation and inspiration to make the changes necessary to move into modern two-dimensional intensive orchard.

She is a keen participant in many industry events and programs in WA and her ideas and support for industry projects is always well received and valued amongst her peers. Always happy to show visitors around the orchard and share the learnings from her recent orchard trials.

Bec shows so much enthusiasm and incredible ability to absorb ideas and apply on her orchard. The way that she works with her staff is very down to earth and collaborative. Empowering them, supporting their training, setting up regular team meetings and giving them ownership of particular tasks/blocks that gives them pride in their work. It is an awesome example of mentoring women in a horticulture business.


Innovative Marketing (new award): Andrew Smith, R&R Smith, Tasmania

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Tasmanian organic apple grower and cidermaker Andrew Smith (centre) was awarded the Innovative Marketer Award.

Andrew Smith has built a phenomenal reputation for both organic apple production and the organic cider brand Willie Smiths in the two decades at the helm of the Tasmania family business.

An early adopter, Andrew saw the potential of organic production systems to provide a market edge in a challenging environment in the region and made the bold move to go organic in 1997 with the support of father and partner Ian. The business now lays claim to being the largest organic apple grower in the country, helping retailers meet rapidly growing demand for organic produce. R&R Smith was the inaugural recipient of a $500,000 grant from the new Woolworths Organic Growth Fund, which is to be invested in commercialising a new apple variety. Andrew’s championship of organic production and his willingness to share knowledge and support other growers has demonstrated the potential of the organic system to local industry, encouraging others to follow suite.

He was also one of the first to recognise the potential of the growing popularity of cider, seeing it as an opportunity to add value and use apples that couldn’t be sold as fresh product and developing Willie Smiths Organic Cider with co-ower Sam Reid.

Willie Smiths has won a swag of national and international industry awards for its range of ciders


Researcher of the Year: Nigel Swarts, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Researcher of the Year Nigel Swarts, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, has contributed to the profitability and sustainability of growers through his work on Nitrogen.

Nigel has made a significant contribution to the productivity and sustainability of the apple and pear industry through his work in nitrogen and irrigation research in commercial apple orchards.

Nigel is passionate about the role of managing nitrogen use for achieving both fruit quality outcomes, improved profitability and environmental gains.

He is an articulate advocate for the industry, actively promoting the positive outcomes of research including demonstrated apple growing is one of the lowest GHG emitters on a yield basis of any agricultural industry.

Nigel’s research is leading to a better understanding of total orchard N budget and all the sources and sinks of N in the orchard environment helping to drive industry profitability and sustainability, and publishes leading research to characterise soil from four of the main apple growing regions. He Supervises four honours, three masters, and 2 PhD projects in the apple industry

Nigel actively communicates research outcomes and encouraging uptake of outcomes on-farm through:

  • Research that is conducted on commercial orchards and numerous site visits to demonstrate research
  • Actively encouraging growers to participate in field trials and experimental design to get the best out of the research
  • Having regular conversations with growers and advisers/consultants across the country to discuss general apple growing and
  • research findings
  • Participating in future orchards walk in the southern loop to extend research outcomes
  • Compiling at least four Australian fruit grower magazine articles and fact sheets for conferences/field days
  • Preparing research reports for distribution by APAL and Hort Innovation.

He also contributes research that advances the reputation of Australian science internationally by:

  • Publishing three international peer reviewed articles on work completed in the apple industry
  • Publishing four acta horticulture articles from ISHS conferences on research completed in apple orchards
  • Presenting findings at the recent ISHS conference on mineral nutrition in Bolzano, Italy
  • Providing data for presentation at the International Sap flow conference, Soil Science Australia conference.


By |June 26th, 2019|News|

About the Author:

Manager Communications & Media, Apple and Pear Australia Ltd
03 9329 3511