David Stagg is proof that it’s never too late to change careers and follow your passion.
He took up growing certified organic apples with his wife Sally after a long and successful career as a Melbourne solicitor.
“My father’s family comes from Somerset in England and I used to hear stories from him about them growing cider apples and making and drinking cider,” says David. So when he retired, he and Sally went to Somerset to learn how to make cider. Not one to do things by halves, he also did a short course in sustainable agriculture and soil science.
Daylesford Cider Company was then established in Central Victoria. The Staggs have planted 600 trees along trellises, which allow for easier maintenance because they keep the trees short and close together, making for a compact orchard.
David says, “I’d done a lot of research about the different apples used to make cider. Here we have 17 varieties including Summerset Red Streak, Kingston Black and Stoke Red. The trellises have six wires.
“We identify a central leader on the tree and take the most promising lateral branches and train those off along the wires. We can pick the apples and prune the trees standing on the ground, avoiding a lot of OH&S issues.”
Establishment costs were expensive; however the investment provides for better long term protection and management. The entire orchard is under permanent netting to protect it from Sulphur-crested Cockatoo attack and the posts are ironbark because treated pine is prohibited under certified organic standards. The Staggs expect the posts to have a life expectancy of 40 years and the upright trellises are steel.
The biggest issues they have are weeds, which were controlled by weed matting when the trees were young.
Thanks to the rich and fertile volcanic soils in the area, they don’t use fertilisers or other inputs. Under certified organic management natural fertilisers and soil conditioners like minerals and compost are allowed; however David says the trees keep producing bigger and better crops every year without them.
Staff from Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF – a program that exchanges labour for keep), help them out with pruning in December and January.
Despite the orchard being certified by Australian Certified Organic – and has therefore been subject to audits every year for the past 15 years – the end product isn’t certified organic. The process of making a good quality cider is complicated and requires the right amount of finish to produce different tastes: sharp, bitter sharp, bitter sweet and sweet. They currently don’t have enough fruit to blend the product to the end quality they expect.
David says, “I would like to produce a certified organic cider but I don’t have enough apples. If I’m here longer I will.”
Why certification then? David says he’s a bit of a traditionalist. “In England where my family came from for centuries, they grew applies without artificial fertilisers and sprays and I thought if they can do it, it’s obviously possible.
“I don’t agree with using pesticides and herbicides on the land when it’s not necessary. I don’t agree with industrial agriculture and I don’t think it will solve the world’s food shortages in the long term.”
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