Once home to a pair of the world’s largest pears, this fruit dynasty houses 160 years of orchard innovation

Once home to a pair of the world's largest pears, this fruit dynasty houses 160 years of orchard innovation

/ By Lara Webster A committed farming family is ensuring an enterprise that started in 1865 will stand the test of time. Situated just outside Armidale in New South Wales, Greenhill Orchards has always been owned and operated by the Yeomans family, which is now eight generations strong. It is the last remaining local commercial orchard, growing cool climate fruits such as cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, and pears. Sixth-generation grower Warren Yeomans said there had been a spot that remained the same through the many seasons — the packing shed. He said it was the orchard’s “heartbeat”. “It probably needs a transplant at times,” he said. “If it could speak it would be interesting to know some of the things that have happened in the past.” The walls of the packing shed have seen little boys grow into men, little girls become women. They have seen the progression from hand picking and packing to machinery and technology. Warren has seen some of those changes too. “There’s lots of comings and goings through this part of the place,” he said. “The fruit sorting has changed over the years and with the advent of forklifts and bulk handling. “As a kid, say with apples, we used to put them into wooden boxes and stacked in the orchard, stacked on the trailer, stacked in the coolroom … bulk handling has made a big difference.” He said Greenhill Orchards twice held the record for the world’s biggest pear, in 1979 and 1999. They were picked from the oldest pear tree on the farm which was more than 100 years old. The old and the new Warren said changes to the orchard over the decades had been made to improve efficiency. He said they had included tree size, the packing shed, and storage and deliveries. His second eldest son, Tom Yeomans, said he had committed to ensuring the farm was sustainable. “With the advent of YouTube videos and that sort of thing information travels really fast so now I get to follow some of the cutting edge orchards around the world,” Tom said. He said his research let him to incorporate more nutrients from the sea to improve the health of the orchard. “Fish extract, seaweed extract … that’s been a game changer for us in improving the resilience to any kind of stress events,” he said. “After a hail storm or a dry spell or even kickstarting at the start of the season it’s very stressful on the plants.” The family also supplies juice and is beginning a new chapter to make cider. “We have actually grafted a bunch of old English cider varieties and heritage varieties and so looking to the future there’s going to be some very interesting juices coming out,” Tom said. One thing never changes Warren said his love for growing fruit never changed. “There’s always the reward for effort to bring the produce in at the end of the day,” he said. “If people enjoy what we grow, that’s satisfaction as well.”