This edition of 5 minutes with “branches” out to one of our Riverland growers, with a long history in the almond industry. Peter Cavallaro was originally an Adelaide Plains boy, but now has his feet firmly planted in the soil in Walker Flat.
Property Name: Walker Flat Almonds
Total area of almonds: 400 acres
Varieties Grown: Nonpareil, Carmel, Price, Maxima, Carina.
Did you grow up on a farm? What brought you into farming (i.e. inheritance, family business, opportunity etc)? The Cavallaro Family has been involved in almonds for the last 44 years. I came back to the industry in a full time capacity in 1992, after finishing my apprenticeship as a panel beater, then a stint in earthmoving but finding my real passion was farming.
What did you grow on the farm when you first started? What crops do you grow now (if others apart from almonds)? We started growing flowers which we did for twelve years as well as almonds. Then I came to my senses and moved permanently into almonds.
Are there any differences between your farm now and your farm when you were a kid? There are probably two distinct differences one being fertiliser inputs with a lot more going in these days compared to when we first started to maintain higher yields. The other would be harvest machinery, which it has come a long way from beating the tree with a rubber mallet and trailers and hessians. If anybody remembers those days they would agree.
What would you say have been the biggest changes (business aspects, management, machinery etc) you’ve implemented since you’ve been farming? It’s probably the way a property gets micro managed in regards to fertilizer inputs to soil testing, leaf and sap testing to water management, production targets, training staff and the cost effectiveness of all that.
How have advances in technology such as machinery, genetics, or chemicals, affected your orchard? This is an area that is forever changing. In regard to technology, it is amazing how we are now able to control our property from anywhere in the world, for example irrigation and fertilizer applications (as long as someone has put it in the tanks). Genetics is now allowing us to plant better varieties, better rootstocks and very good control over our budwood supply.
How has labour on the farm changed from when you started until now? What has had the biggest impact? The biggest impact that comes to mind is the lack of people wanting to go into the farming sector as a career. I find you can employ people to do jobs but it’s the passion to want to stay and further their career in farming which is missing. These days people are chasing technology jobs which is good obviously but farming is a life choice that in the long run gives a lot of challenges but can give a lot of rewarding benefits.
What do you think has been the most useful advance in farming to date? Machinery advances have allowed farmers to plant more hectares as they are able to harvest a lot quicker than they have in the past.
Have you observed changes in the number, size and type of farms that are found in your area? What trends have you noticed? The size of properties has definitely been the biggest change I have noticed, be it almonds or even grain properties. With the introduction of better and larger machinery it has allowed farmers to get over their land a lot quicker and more efficiently.
What is the hardest part of farming for you? I would say the weather has been the area that has been the hardest to contend with at flowering or rain at harvest.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? Well that is easy I love what I do, I work in an industry that has very good people who are only a phone call away. But my main motivation is to be better than the year before be it quality or quantity.
What are you most passionate about in your job? To produce the best quality possibly; also to work with people who have the same industry minded goals and to be able to teach the next generation of almond growers.
What would you say to people who believe many conventional farming practices have a negative impact on the environment? Have you taken any steps to make your farm more environmentally friendly? We cannot afford to comprise our land or the environment because this is our livelihood. Our business has spent time and money on improving our irrigation practices, maintaining native vegetation around our boundaries and ensuring we use the most efficient machinery for our agronomic practices.
What changes do you predict farming will see over the next 25 years? I would say the changes would come from production and harvesting procedures in regards to closer plantings and catch and shake. Also with new varieties that don’t suffer from hull rot.
What advice could you give to any young greenhorns interested in getting into farming? I would encourage anyone new to the farming industry to take on the challenge as farming is very rewarding.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them. That would be my family and the values and support that they continue to bring. In regard to mentors there would be too many to mention. This industry has a lot of people that I respect and I value their advice. They have been in this industry for a very long time and continue to support and pass down their knowledge.
What are the key relationships that matter most in your working relationships? What do you see as the key sources of support? Good people and the support and trust they bring. The almond industry in general is very unique in the sense that everyone will talk and support each other. It has a very good base that starts with the Almond Board which is run by very good people who are there for the good of the industry. We are lucky in the almond industry that we are able to build relationships with a wide range of people who we are able to ring and get support when it is most needed.
What are the most difficult or challenging aspects you see facing the almond industry? Increased production on the world stage and the way Australia is able to deal with this marketing challenge. Pest and disease pressure and how we are able to deal with these and becoming a sustainable industry that can grow consistent quality crops with less inputs.
When you think of the future of the almond industry, what gives you a sense of hope? I see an industry that is very strong, very cohesive. We are lucky as an industry that we have people who are working toward the same goals and that is pushing the almond industry to be the best it can possibly be on the world market.