Bringing home the Bacon at Barham Avocados

Oct. 29, 2023 | 5 Min read
When it comes to avocado trees, Tim and Katrina Myers have been blazing a trail along the Murray at Barham, NSW, through droughts, floods, pandemics, global financial crises, good crops and, well, some not so good.

When it comes to avocado trees, Tim and Katrina Myers have been blazing a trail along the Murray at Barham, NSW, through droughts, floods, pandemics, global financial crises, good crops and, well, some not so good.

But now things are back on the boil.

They’ve had a good pollination, they’re well into harvest, some of the worst years are behind them and their established enterprise is flourishing again.

And not just in growing avocados, but in how they are marketed, how other parts of the property are farmed, about the new farm-stay – and there’s more.

The story starts a couple of months ago, with the Myers getting stuck into harvest, and while it’s not exactly bringing home the bacon, but Barham avocado growers always start with their Bacon trees ahead of the serious business to follow.

The Bacons are in the mix primarily as pollinators, which means, Mr Myers says, they will probably only pick six or seven bins.

Barham Avocados all boxed and ready to roll. 

As opposed to the Hass, which will total bins in their thousands once the dust has settled.

But Mr Myers says right now the avocado industry is marking time while it waits for the supply-demand equation to sort itself out – with supply way too far out in front.

While he waits for that, he is also glad he is looking at only a small number of Bacon bins, because unlike other varieties, each Bacon (like all greens) needs to be snipped from the branch, with 2-3mm of stalk left intact on the fruit to prevent stem-end rot.

Whereas the Hass, which lose their green when ripe, can just be grabbed as you go past and slipped into the bin because they are “a much tougher variety”.

They are just two of the varieties grown at Barham Avocados – there are also Fuerte, Gem and Reed in the line-up across the almost 9000 trees on the property.

In the packing shed at the Barham base for the Myers’ avocado business.

That's along with some opportunity cropping on the back of our recent wet years including rice and pumpkins – and some Merino sheep – making the most of some spare land and existing, albeit older, irrigation infrastructure.

There had to be, Mr Myers noted, some sort of silver lining in all the wet weather and floods.

“We will have a lot more fruit in the not-too-distant future as we have planted a lot of new trees, which take four years to reach production maturity, so we are hoping demand has caught up with supply by then,” Mr Myers says.

“We had a very strong market a couple of years ago, with good prices, and like many others, family farms and corporates, we doubled our orchard size on land we had.

“The market is growing, just not as fast as supply.

The signs say it all at downtown Barham.

"Between 2000 and 2010 the Australian avocado market doubled in size and you probably can’t maintain expansion that rapid.

“But there are other promising signs, such as new and bigger export opportunities for us all, especially with access to countries such as India with its vast population and growing taste for our products.

“We also have emerging markets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand, all of which will help with the pressure on the domestic market as well, and the bigger the export scene gets, the better.”

Mr Myers says the export market does face tough competition from Peru, Chile and Colombia, all having much lower costs of production with cheaper labour, less red tape and handy access to North America.

On the upside, Australian producers are much closer to the Asian markets so have a good advantage with freight costs.

Avocado growers are also adapting to changing standards within the industry, new and better rootstock, better technical skills and extension work being conducted, all of which is seeing a major improvement in tree longevity and production.

“Only a couple of years ago there was so much demand to get bigger, or even get on board, you were looking at a three-year waiting list just for seed, but that has all returned to normal now, so our next big challenge will be turning over our lower-performing trees with some of the latest options,” Mr Myers explains.

“Even something as simple as poor setup can reduce the productive life of a tree to 20 years, or less, but with all the extra information now available, the agronomy and research, if you do it right that 20 years has just become 40-50 years,” he says.

“That makes a big difference to the bottom line in cost and time saved, and with research and development ongoing, there is always more good news and advice coming.”

An aerial outlook on Barham Avocados alongside the Murray in southwest NSW. 

Barham Avocados is a work in progress, having grown from its farmers' markets origins to be a significant supplier to the supermarket trade to maximise its scale of economies and, as a value-add, has ventured into online sales, which Mr Myers says they are looking at expanding as well.

But right now, there are a lot of hard yards ahead.

Harvest across the property as varieties come online will run until January – plus there's the added load of being a packer for two other growers.

The Hass alone will be harvested for anywhere between two and five months.

And harvesting requires two passes in most orchards, the first one getting everything which can be gathered by hand and the second Mr Myerse around the cherry-pickers being brought in to tackle the tree tops.

Then there are those quiet months in between for maintenance, any pruning that's required, checking out the filtration systems and all the other little bits and pieces which are the nuts and bolts of the business.

Also, once again, it gives Mr Myers the time to ponder some of the mysteries of the universe, such as why supermarkets don’t like the overly big fruit whereas some smaller independents and boutique fruit shops jump at the chance to have them.

Or why everyone is so hot for Hass while he can’t think of anything better than a big, beautiful, creamy, flavoursome Reed to rock his boat.

And while Mr Myers samples those dream avos, Mrs Myers also has her hands full, because she agrees that after getting over those COVID and flooding blues, the family’s business is not only ramping up production, with its new plantings and using its spare land, it is also launching a series of support programs – and innovations – to supercharge the ‘comeback’.

She says the first big news is Barham Avocados direct sales are open.

“It's been an up and down time at the farm (as it has for everyone) during the past few years, first with COVID hitting our business hard, so then we went on our big trip and I guess just with life, we dropped the ball on our direct sales,” Mrs Myers says.

“But, it’s always been part of the business we have enjoyed so we will be ready shortly to send our avos direct to you.

“And we guarantee they are perfect every time, instead of you taking pot luck buying from some of the bigger retailers only to find they're brown inside.”

Mrs Myers says the relaunch will be based on a couple of trials they are running, with the primary candidate being drop points.

So what’s a drop point, you might ask.

Basically, Mrs Myers says the customer orders their avocados and then she “toodles them down to the city, pulls up at a designated site and you come and collect”.

Avos bring home the bacon.

She says it means the customer gets them straight from the farmer and they get to save on packaging and don't have to rely on couriers.

“So we think it's worth giving a go.

"We just need a few spots to head to in the city, so if anyone has any suggestions, we would love to hear them.

“Or maybe you would be willing to be a host drop point yourself.

"If so, please get in touch via and let us know if you have any suggestions."

Then there’s the new farm-stay Lost and Found, designed and built by Mrs Myers’s mother in partnership with Lifehouse Design Architects.

She says “it is such a treat to be able to offer this gorgeous designer house through Airbnb, set floating amongst the avocado trees for people to come and stay in”.

“If you have ever wanted to sleep in an avocado orchard, then you are in luck,” Mrs Myers says.

“With gorgeous views out over the back paddocks, away from it all, this is a great place to relax and unwind."

Categories Avocado Pome fruit Stone Fruit

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