Meet Imperial Mandarin Grower Dennis Smith of Burnett View Citrus | Blog
It’s all about the flavour for Dennis Smith, a third-generation citrus grower who produces premium quality Imperial Mandarins for Red Rich Fruits. He strives day-in, day-out on his orchards in Gayndah to make sure each piece of fruit creates a great experience for the consumer. We stopped by for a chat with Dennis to find out more about his family-owned and operated business, ‘Burnett View Citrus’.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Burnett View Citrus.
I’ve been here for 12 years but I’m third generation. The orchard was established as a dairy farm in 1927 by my grandfather, and then citrus came a few years later and we’ve been doing it ever since.
Back in the day, dairy farming was starting to fail and people were looking for an alternative, and with the perfect climate in Gayndah for growing citrus, it was therefore a natural transition. We had good alluvial soil along the river, perfect climate, and plenty of water, so we started by growing oranges, lemons and grapefruit, and then mandarins later on.
Did you always know you wanted to be a citrus grower?
I went and had another life outside of Gayndah and citrus for a while but family events brought me back to Gayndah and then I just naturally fell back into farm work. It wasn’t by design, I was a carpenter and quite happy doing that; but then life just happens I think, and that’s what happened. I got caught up in it and had a family and had to put food on the table and this was a way to do that. Then later on, I fell in love with it and now it’s what keeps me going and gets me up of a morning.
What are you currently growing on the property?
We’ve got about 40ha of citrus, which is about twelve and a half thousand trees at the moment. We grow lemons, we’ve got some young limes coming on, we grow Texas Star Ruby Grapefruit, Imperial Mandarins, Avana Mandarins, and Honey Murcott Mandarins. Trees that were put in in the late ‘60s/early 70s would be the oldest ones on the property, which are getting up to 50-60 years old. The newest ones are waiting to be planted (see below) right now – the cycle continues!
What other facilities have you got here?
We were packing on our orchard up until mid-April [this year]. We did our lemon crop and also our first harvest on the grapefruit here. We’ve always packed our fruit – this is the first time we’ve ever sent it off-farm. Red Rich Fruits came to me with a proposal that suits my lifestyle at the moment. So it was timing more than anything. It [the Mt Lawless packing shed] is very handy to where we are, the business structure makes sense… [so now] we pick and de-green Imperial Mandarins here, before sending it to Red Rich Fruits at Mt Lawless for packing. This is my second year supplying Red Rich Fruits.
What sets your orchard apart from other orchards?
What I concentrate on is the flavour – that’s what drives me. I like to get a good, solid flavour in them, good sugars, a good balance with acids, and make it a pleasant experience for the consumer. That’s what I strive to do day in, day out: make sure that when the fruit’s sitting on the table at home, it’s ready to be there, and it’s appreciated.
How is this year’s Imperial Mandarin crop looking?
It’s looking really good. This season’s set up very well. It makes for tough growing conditions and hard work when you’ve got 42 degrees every day, and no rain. It’s a battle to keep the water up to them and keep them growing in that sort of temperature and dry conditions; but they love it come this time of year. The sugar goes through the roof and makes our job a lot easier, because when it tastes good, consumers want to buy it.
For us, in Gayndah, it’s also looking like a bigger crop than usual. Other growing areas are down – I think Mundubbera is down so that’ll offset it. Overall, it’ll probably come out around average; but we’ve got a good crop of good-eating fruit. That’s the main thing to remember: it’s not just a big crop, it’s a big crop of really good fruit, which is ideal.
What sort of challenges have you faced with this year’s crop?
With the hot dry summer we had, the biggest battle was keeping the water up to [the trees] and stopping the stress, because up until about 35 degrees Celsius the fruit will keep growing. Once you get over that, the tree will just shut down because it’s too hot for it. We came out of a perfect spring with lots of storms. About every fortnight we were getting an inch or two of rain [and] the temperature was nice.
So spring was great but then it stopped in November, and it was the back end of March before we saw any more rain at all with forty-degree days most of those days, so the trees were stressed at that point. We were irrigating every four to five days just to get them enough water. That was the biggest challenge we had – that and getting the sunburn off, because they were burning behind us as we were thinning. You’d look back and there’d be yellow, or behind you the next day and think oh alright, well we’ll turn around and go back and do that again!
What’s the hardest thing about growing citrus?
The hardest part is the weather. You can get everything else right all year and if the rain wants to throw a spanner in the works, it will; or if the heat wants to… there’s always something that can get you. It’s uncontrollable. Everything else you can put plans in motion to cover, but beating the weather is the killer.
What’s your favourite part about growing citrus?
My favourite part is the people you encounter. It’s the nice part of what we do. With so many backpackers coming through every year, you meet a lot of really good people. It keeps it interesting.
What’s one thing you’d like consumers to know about citrus?
If you get a bad experience, take a look at the sticker and don’t buy that brand again because different growers use different growing practices and one grower might do something that doesn’t suit you and another grower will do something that will, so shop around.
Imperial mandarin harvest is expected to wind up at Burnett View Citrus in early June.
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