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Issue 12

Tales from a Wild, Wild Harvest

The following are extracts from a series of emails between John King and the editor. Pricing, wild harvest and innovative harvest and post harvest methods are just a few of the challenges facing the industry. This electronic discussion began when I offered John some Wild lime (Citrus glauca). The fruit was to be harvested in a remote area, in difficult conditions. The owner of the land wanted payment. I was looking forward to a 'harvest holiday' away from the phone but it wasn't quite as simple as I had hoped... glauca

 

Hi John - spoke to the very nice Jennifer about her limes and we have sort of come to an arrangement. However - I will need to know what price I can expect this end to ensure that I will actually make any money. She will probably want at least $3-4/kg her end and was talking more if she helps me harvest. I really need to get $10-12/kg cleaned and packed to make it worth my while.

What is the current price, do you know? ANFF offered her $6.50/kg.

I would be harvesting and sending boxes back by courier every second day. I will need a cool room the Brisbane end unless I can consign direct to the buyer. I assume you don't want the whole crop! Talk to you soon, Sammy Ringer,


Dear Sammy,

I will give you a bit of realism, table olives fetch only $1.20 per Kilo, processing olives are only about 50 cents per kilo picked and sorted. They are hand picked, and a lot more has gone into the infrastructure of an olive grove than a paddock of wild limes. If you price the processors out of the market there will be no industry.

Do some research, find out how much the stone fruit farmers in Stanthorpe get for processing grade fruit. How much profit there is per Kilo to the farmer after orchard costs, and how much the pickers get. Then you can make an informed comment on what these fruit are worth, bearing in mind that they are only processing fruit, not table fruit, there has been no establishment cost, and there are no ongoing maintenance costs or overheads.

It is all right to get all emotional about an industry, but some form of reality is going to have to enter the industry somewhere. If the middle man and the grower get greedy, the processor will give the idea up or go elsewhere.

On a lighter note, I have found a second generation TEMPE maker and have given him some dried Bunyas to start with. As soon as the fresh ones are in we can get him started with them. Then we can compare the two products and get some food value and tests done on the Bunya Tempe. If the dried Bunyas work, a lot of problems solved and a lot of potential there for a consortium.

Regards, John


Hi John - I will give Jennifer a ring and talk it through with her. Much as I was looking forward to a few days off and some pocket money for Xmas, I think the wild lime may prove too hard. She seemed quite firm on $3-$5 a kilo and that would be cash on harvest, leaving transport and on-sale to me. I would have some $150 of costs just to get there/back plus packaging plus freight plus the 30-90 day weight for my money + any bad debts.

So you can see, I am not being greedy and certainly don't want to price product out of the processor's range but a direct comparison with plantation grown just doesn't work.

Olives may be hand picked (though I've never heard that) but the conventional grower is much better set up for harvest and post harvest. With time, I may have my van fitted out as a 'harvester on wheels' but for now I am using make-shift implements to harvest, travelling long distances (in the case of the wild lime, well and truly into four wheel drive country and then into on-foot country), harvesting from trees with variable yield, hand sorting and cleaning and hand packing.

To make a comparison - when I street harvest riberry, I am able to box up around 20 kilo a 10 hour day - good days! I get $8 /kg sorted, packed and delivered.

I suppose you could call these processing grade as they're frozen immediately. I spend around $12 in petrol about $3 in packing materials. I wait 60 days for payment. So I am working for around $13.50 per hour which is OK - but this is only for those mid season days when the picking is good (and the traffic in Brisbane not too heavy!).

Beginning and end of season, the pick can drop to 10 kilo for the same 10 hour day. Here at home I can harvest/de-leaf, clean and pack no more than 2 kilo of warrigal greens per hour - get $6/kilo from local restaurants.

I don't mind doing this in small quantities to keep bushfoods on the menu but wouldn't want to do it for a living!

As for the raspberry harvest I am doing it at present!!!! Well - I can tell you it's a lot of hot scratchy work for only a few $$!! I am going to prune back and tidy my harvest area (roadside) and get myself some picking gear for next year!

They sell as soon as they hit the shelves (punnets, $3 each).

Wild/street harvest has many problems involved which may or may not be sorted out. I believe that bushfoods will have to have a small price premium over other produce in the short to mid term because the costs are still comparatively higher.

The industry will power, in my belief, when growers begin to get their costs down, yields up, post harvest immaculate end product reasonably uniform.

I won't get repetitive and start banging my drum on value adding but I think this should be part of anyone's long term plan. This can be as simple as drying, roasting, grinding....or as complex as making tempe!! I am delighted you have found a tempe maker and look forward to this year's harvest (whatever the buying price!)

By the way - you never did say what you were willing to pay for the limes - Jennifer maintains that last year's $6.50 was simply a trial. I pay $5/kg for round limes up here but the quality's pretty low (post harvest carelessness).

I have some papers from the AQIA conference and it gives me heart - here are pragmatic FARMERS working together to improve a product and thus their industry. Sammy


Index 12

From the Editor

Letters

Research

Warrigal green trials

Kidney Wallum

More on Davidsonia

Bushfoods and Farm Forestry

Morinda

Sapphire Coast Project

Griffith Uni

Tasting Australia

More On Warrigal Greens

The People of Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corp

AQIA Conference

Somewhat useful pages

Pick of the list

Our Future, Our Culture

Bush Dust - The Spicy Tasmanian

Tales from a Wild, Wild Harvest

Out West, Wild Lime, Wheat

Dear Sammy,

A lot of hard questions, and ones that must be answered in time, as an industry, if we are to grow.

To be market driven we must be able to meet a market and our competition. Main stream agriculture processing crops are our competition. We need to be innovative, and as organic do can claim some price premium, BUT we still need to compete.

You can directly compare with an established stone fruit orchard - they may have less distance to harvest, but the establishment costs for them today are great, pre and post harvest problems the same, and it is just as big a gamble. No quick profit for any of the stayers, hopefully a living and a satisfying lifestyle. Perhaps some cross linking of industry infrastructure in the targeted harvest areas, what is there in that area already that we can use?

As you say they already have the infrastructure set up in stonefruit, that came over time. I can see some positive flow on as others from main stream join us, as they have seen the pitfalls we are trying to drag our-selves out of. Without unity in what we are trying to do we will always struggle. I have been struggling since 1975 to develop the direction that I am going and to gain the wild food knowledge necessary. I have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel but know it is there somewhere.

Maybe bunya TEMPE will be our contribution to the culinary history books (marinated in Rainforest Liqueurs and a bunya soy? sauce) Take care, John

 

Out West, Wild Lime, Wheat

Last November,I went out west last week to look at our wild lime (Citrus glauca, previously Eremocitrus glauca) and to determine the extent of the species and viability of wild harvest of this difficult but delicious native food.

Greening Australia had helped me locate both roadside and private land stands of Wild lime but had been a little off in their ripening calendar. It was about 2 weeks too early but didn't realise till we'd gone too far to turn back.

I found out a lot about wild harvest, a bit about the plant itself and even more about the people of this intensively agricultural region. The first thing I found was that the word 'country' is used a lot - the property I stayed on grew wheat and cattle but the owner still considered it 'Brigalow country'.

Brigalow itself (Acacia ***) is now little more than a token fence-line shelter belt but the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of the of the people who first cleared the land still respect (in name at least) the original inhabitants. Bumping over the 9000 ha property with the sinfully active 93 year old owner, George Telford, I had 'melon hole country' pointed out to me. Then there was 'red soil country' (not good for much), 'wilga country', 'belah country' and so on. I couldn't help but put myself back in the suburbs of Sydney, imagining a neighbourhood gathering in which people spoke proudly of 'Azalea country' or  'couch grass country'. Perhaps we have lost a sense of place and surroundings...

I had expected to find the limes scattered along the roadside but discovered that the majority were to be found on the inside boundaries of grazing land where clearing had taken place but the owner had given up on the feisty citrus. I found almost none where brigalow or other shelter belt trees were present.

The property I spent most of my time on grew wheat and cattle but the owner still considered it to be 'brigalow country'. Brigalow is now itself little more than a token fence-line shelter belt but the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of the people who first cleared the land still respect (in name, at least) the original inhabitants.

Wild lime is considered a particularly virulent regrowth pest out west and I can see why. George showed me areas which had been cleared recently and the vigorously suckering lime was comprehensively dominant. The first problem I discovered was the use of a ground sheet. Almost all the mature trees had numerous suckers around their base which made laying the sheet down flat almost impossible. I may take a slasher to clear an area round the base next time. I also found that my ground sheet was woefully small - 5mx 5m is probably the best size for large trees. Where I could lay a ground sheet, I found that my home made 'clawer' worked very well in winkling the fruit off the tree. I had been told I could also wear a pair of leather gloves and just run my hand down the branches to collect the fruit. This worked fairly well in some cases but not all wild lime branches are nice and straight and tangle free. This method also meant using a ladder on the larger trees - cumbersome and uncomfortable. I now have wild lime thorn splinters in parts of my body which are better left unmentioned! The next challenge was getting the fruit chilled without delay and keeping them that way. I had broccoli boxes ready with bags of ice in them but, by the end of the day, the ice was melting and the temperature rising.

The one problem I encountered which I hadn't foreseen was the high level of second quality fruit due to some little beast which pockmarks the fruit with sting holes and obviously lays its eggs in the seed area. Stony galls with small black pupae in them were to be found in around a third of the harvest. Back home with my little harvest, I discovered the joys of hand sorting. Separating the fruit from leaves and twigs was the first stage.

I had hoped that putting the whole lot in a container of water would work but all I got was a wet mess of fruit and debris. Eventually I used a large sieve which took out the smallest fruit and debris. From here on it was hand sorting - quite daunting when you have 80kg plus of fruit waiting to be processed! From the original 80 or so kilo, I have gleaned - 20 kg of 1st quality 40 kg of second quality (probably all right for marmalade or juice) 15 kg of rejects - to be used for seed. and obviously 5 kg of debris!

In a week or so, I will head out west to visit the GA boys and George Telford again. This time, apart from ground sheets, leather gloves, the clawer, boxes and buckets, my kit will include: dry ice pellets a brush hook and slasher, a lighter ladder (!) sieves, a rake (for collecting fruit for seed from the ground and for clearing round the base of the tree for the ground sheet) and a better supply of mossie coils! If there are any wild harvesters out there with suggestions - or their own stories - let me know!


 

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