Woolworths Organic Growth Fund invests in Batlow

N&A Group farmers began diversifying into organics in 2015.

AS THE latest recipients of Woolworths Organic Growth Fund, N&A Group’s Ardrossan Orchards in Batlow will receive an interest-free loan of $150,000 to fund protected cropping on their properties.

Woolworth’s Organic Growth Fund is offering up to $30 million over five years in interest free loans and grants, as well as contracted purchase volumes, to farmers across Australia.

The fund, which is run in partnership with Heritage Bank, provides farmers with longer-term demand for their organic fruit and vegetables.

Ardrossan Orchards manager Ian Cathels said that their business has been dealing with Woolworths for over 50 years as a conventional supplier, and decided to diversify into organics about five years ago.

Their organic range is primarily in organic berries, including blueberries, blackberries, and a trial of raspberries, but they have also diversified a small portion of their apple orchard into organics.

“When you’ve got one of the major supermarkets willing to support you, you just have to give it a go and work together,” Mr Cathels said.

“[It] just ticked all the boxes for us because as a family business, we were looking at diversifying into organics … and when a major supermarket is thinking the same thing, it’s a win for our operation.”

The $150k grant is being invested into protective covers for their crops, which will protect against hail, birds, insects, and even sunburn.

“It’s allowed us to expand the operation,” Mr Cathels said.

The Batlow grower said that they were affected by the Dunns Road Fire “in a very large way”, losing a fair amount of their apple orchard and an entire blueberry block that they were leasing.

“The blackberries that we’re growing on our home property actually avoided being damaged by the fires, so we’re able to carry on harvesting them,” Mr Cathels said.

The group has a big challenge ahead in terms of replanting. In damaged areas of their apple orchards, it will take six to eight years to develop a new commercial crop. Unviable blocks need to be fully cleared, then the correct variety of trees need to be selected and planted, and then there is around four years of growing before harvest can finally occur.

Despite this, Mr Cathels sees the grant from Woolworths as a major win, saying they will be able to develop and scale their organic production in a timelier manner.

“By providing greater all-round consistency and quality for Woolworths shoppers, we can help drive growth throughout the entire category,” he said.

Woolworths Head of Produce Paul Turner said that they’re seeing double-digit growth in customer demand for organic fruit and vegetables, and they believe the trend will only continue over the coming years.

“We’re delighted to be working closely with farmers like N&A Group to help boost production and make organic berries much more accessible across Australia,” Mr Turner said.

“The Cathels have strong ambitions in organics and we’re excited to see what our funding will unlock for N&A Group and our mutual customers.”

Round three of the Woolworths Organic Growth Fund is now open and Woolworths is inviting farmers to apply by March 1, 2020.

You can learn more about the fund online.