A MAJOR cash injection will help an organic date grower fight back against the wave of imported product entering Australia.
South Australia's Gurra Downs Date Company has snared a $414,000 Woolworths Organic Growth Fund grant to upgrade the power on the packhouse and install new equipment to help wash, dry, grade and sort the fruit.
It's anticipated the investment will help reduce extensive manual labour and increasing overall production capacity.
Located in the Riverland region, Gurra Downs Date Company is run by Dave, Anita and Shaun Reilly who have been growing organic produce for more than 30 years, planting salt-tolerant date trees in the early 1990s in a move to adapt to irrigation water drawn from the Gurra Gurra Wetlands.
While dates are growing in popularity among Australian consumers, local supply remains limited with the domestic market relying on imported dates from countries like Mexico and USA to meet demand.
Dave Reilly said the family can get the fruit off the trees quickly but when it gets into the packhouse everything slows down as it doesn't have the right equipment to process rapidly.
"The grant from Woolworths will help us develop a packing facility with processing equipment that can efficiently handle higher volumes and create value-add opportunities for our fruit," he said.
"Expanding our production capabilities will see more Australian-grown organic Medjool dates being consumed by Australian families, just like mine."
The grant also marks the beginning of a new partnership which will see Gurra Downs dates stocked in select Woolworths stores.
Woolworths' commercial director of fruit and veg Paul Turner said the supermarket giant was proud to be backing family-owned Australian businesses who are sowing the seeds to help meet the demand for organic produce in the years ahead.
"Over the last three years, demand for organic fruit and vegetables has increased by around 30 per cent, as customers become more interested in where their food comes from and how it's grown," Mr Turner said.
"We will always choose Australian fruit and veg first. By supporting local growers like the Reillys, we can help customers put more Australian produce into their shopping baskets each week."
Other businesses awarded grants
THE Woolworths Organic Growth Fund has also provided a $500,000 interest-free loan to Victorian business Butler Market Greens, building on an almost 50-year-long supply partnership with the Butler family.
The loan will help the business double its organic production and increase water efficiency through irrigation upgrades and expansion.
Butler Market Gardens' Rick Butler said sustainability was at the core of what the business is all about.
"Today's customers are more interested than ever in ensuring their food is grown in an environmentally-friendly way," Mr Butler said.
"We believe organic farming is inherently sustainable, and we're pleased this grant will also help us conserve natural resources through water efficiency."
Adelaide Hills business SA Organic Strawberries received a $232,000 grant from Woolworths' Organic Growth Fund to install packing shed technology that helps cools strawberries quickly, extracting heat once they're picked to retain quality and extend shelf-life for customers.
Round six of the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund is now open and Woolworths is inviting farmers to apply by February 28, 2022.
"To date we have invested millions of dollars into 17 established and transitioning organic farms across Australia," Mr Turner said.
"We're currently looking for the next crop of Australian farmers who we can partner with to boost long term organic supply in Australia.
"We're keen to hear from organic growers with plans to expand and conventional farmers looking to convert."
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