By Melissa Keogh
Fourth-generation apricot producers in the Murraylands are encouraging shoppers to choose local when buying dried fruit products to support growers and keep the industry afloat.
Dried fruit producer Paul Prosser has been growing apricots on his Mypolonga property, about 15km from Murray Bridge, for decades.
In the last 15 years, he and wife Kathy have run their own dried fruit business Aussie Apricots, consisting of dried fruits, confectionery, jams and chutneys.
They grow, hand pick and cut apricots by hand and machine before processing, sun drying and sorting the fruit.
The Prossers say their dried apricots are rich in colour and the flesh is soft – two attributes to look out for when searching for high quality, locally grown and produced dried fruit products.
“There are a lot of growers who are selling (dried fruit) straight out of the bin and not going through the right processes which include paying the dried tree fruit levy to the government,” Paul says.
“Unprocessed dried fruit can have anything in there, from earwigs, to dirt and snails.
“If something happens because of this, it will affect us too because it has a domino affect. You just have to look at the rockmelon and sprouts industry after the recent recalls.
“So as a consumer, buy local and if the dried apricots are hard and of all different sizes then it’s likely they haven’t been washed and processed properly.”
The Prossers grow a variety of apricots including Morpark, Storey, Hunter, Riviera, Riverbright species.
One patch of their apricot orchard is three generations old and they plan to plant a further 750 trees this year.
The apricot season is in full swing in summertime, when Aussie Apricots’ pickers are “flat out” hand-picking the fruit, often in 38-40C heat.
Last season’s haul (earlier this year) was a healthy six tonnes of dried fruit.
Kathy says growing apricots is relatively disaster free, but a harvest’s success relies heavily on the weather.
“If we have reasonable weather conditions, it’s not so bad,” she says.
“The only issue is that you have only one crop per year so you only get one chance.”
Aussie Apricots employs a small team of regular full time employees, with its workforce swelling to about 30 casuals during harvest.
The Prossers also grow peaches, oranges, avocados and figs and source fruit from six other growers in the region.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s an achievement because without us they (other growers) would be struggling to sell their product,” Paul says.
Once picked and cut, the apricots are laid out in a specialised sun drying house for three or four days before being washed, sized and sorted.
They then undergo a dehydration process before being packaged and sold to supermarkets and green grocers across SA and interstate.
The apricots are also processed into confectionery, jams and chutneys.
Kathy and Paul also produce a skincare range of apricot soaps, sourcing buffalo and cows milk from the region’s last few existing dairies.
They hope the skincare products will appear on IGA shelves soon.
To find an Aussie Apricots stockist click here.
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