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Saving water tastes sweet for Gippsland apple grower

10 April 2024 | News
10 April 2024

Apples are one of Australia’s favourite fruits and Victoria produces nearly half of the country's crop. Third generation orchardist, Laurie Thompson, says the conditions in his orchards are perfect for growing great fruit. And a switch to drip irrigation has set him up to save significant amounts of water for a sweeter future.

Tell us a bit about your business.

I’m the owner and director of Battunga Orchards that employs 17 full time staff. We grow 12,500 tonnes of apples annually as well as pears and lemons across 450 acres at sites in Warragul, Hoddles Creek, and Thorpdale. 

We’re licenced by Southern Rural Water to use 277 megalitres of surface and groundwater at our sites in Warragul and Thorpdale. This water is essential to the success of my business.

What is it about southern Victoria that good for growing apples?

Southern Victoria has reliable rainfall, cold winters, and fertile soils – the perfect ingredients for high-quality fruit.

How has switching irrigation systems benefitted your business?

Five years ago, we made the call to move from mini sprinklers to drip irrigation systems and it’s delivered a 40 percent water saving.

Drip irrigation delivers water directly to the root zone, where it’s needed, and as a result we lose less water to evaporation and run off. 

Using drip irrigation, we can program the system to put out less water, more often to maintain the optimal soil moisture levels that keeps our fruit trees very happy. 

We also use hail netting at all our farms to protect our fruit from damaging weather and reduce evaporation in the orchard. We’ve found it delivers a 25 percent water savings.

Why do you value working with Southern Rural Water?

Southern Rural Water have always been very helpful when we’ve needed advice on pumping rights, dam construction and water licencing.

They understand farming, they’re fair and they’ve helped us secure water that allows us to expand our business and give local people jobs.

A hotter, drier future is predicted. How are you preparing for this when it comes to water use? 

Investing in drip irrigation and hail netting was a big outlay but we’re glad to have done it because it’s made us more climate resilient.

Thanks to Southern Rural Water recently installing a new water meter, we’re able to monitor our water use more closely. This helps us use our water allocation wisely and stay in the limit of what we’re licenced to use.

Compliance is very important because water is a precious, finite resource and making sure everyone is doing the right thing means water is being shared fairly now and in the future.

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities for your business?

I think input costs and labour will continue to be a challenge, but Aussies will always love their apples and we have the water, smarts, and infrastructure to cater for continuing demand.
Currently, Australia only sells between one to two percent of apples overseas. There’s an industry push to grow exports by 10 per cent, but it’s difficult for Victorian producers to engage in exports activities due to high costs.

Finally, what’s your favourite apple variety?

Our climate allows us to grow the best Granny Smiths in Australia. With its beautiful dark green colour, a crunchy bite and juicy flavour it’s my favourite apply by far.