Jason Shields of Plunkett Orchards has received the coveted Grower of the Year Award at the 2019 Hort Connections Gala Dinner, held in Melbourne on Wednesday 26 June.
His goal to transform orchard management practices with technology has allowed Plunkett Orchards to lift productivity, improve safety and reliably maintain fruit quality helping the orchard become a supplier of choice for retailers here and overseas.
Based in the Goulburn Valley, family-owned Plunkett Orchards produce around 12,000 bins of apples every year, as well as 2000 bins of Packham pears across 130 hectares.
“Jason has been leading our orchard operations for 20 years. He’s been instrumental during a time of industry transition by actively planning for and planting an orchard of the future.” Jason’s boss and orchard owner, Andrew Plunkett, says.
Jason always envisaged bringing leading edge practices to the orchard, but this really took off when he participated in a Future Orchards® European study tour and saw world-class agrotechnology in operation.
Removing the need for cherry pickers, ladders and pickers with bags, the imported harvest platforms have been so efficient and effective at improving a range of orchard practices from management to harvest tasks, Plunketts now operate four of the platforms, built to their own specifications.
One of the key requirements for using machinery in an orchard block is to make sure that the tree density, orchard layout and canopy management allow the machinery to fit and workers to be safer and more efficient.
“Jason has been steadily rejuvenating the orchard, allowing for new practices to be readily adopted. It’s been a major change journey for the orchard and our staff, and Jason has been energetic in bringing the team along with him,” said Andrew.
The Grower of the Year award is the horticultural sector’s top honour and recognises an Australian grower who is outstanding across all aspects of production, innovative and actively contributes broader industry. This is the first time an apple and pear grower has taken out the prestigious award.
Presented with an APAL Award for Excellence earlier in the week, Phil Turnbull, CEO of the industry’s peak-body, APAL, said the award was well-deserved recognition of Jason’s innovative approach and dedication to continuous orchard improvement.
“Growers were impressed by what they saw happening at Plunkett Orchards during the Spring Future Orchards® Walks,” Phil said in relation to the new productivity and profitability measures led by Jason.
“The entire apple and pear industry is at a tipping point: growers are under pressure and those business that are able to challenge the status-quo and do things smarter, will be the ones to thrive.”
The Grower of the Year Award is sponsored by Syngenta.