Hort Innovation Churchill Fellow Chris McColl shares his Fellowship experience
5 Sep 2019
What was your Churchill Fellowship topic?
To investigate the management of high density apple orchards in Europe and North America.
Why did you apply for a Churchill Fellowship?
At that time, the Australian apple industry was based on orchards with large, wide spaced trees that were slow to come into production and required very high inputs of labour. New systems had been developed in Europe and North America that were based on high tree density per hectare, higher yields, reduced labour inputs and greater efficiency.
How did the Churchill Fellowship benefit you as a grower?
I saw a wide range of orchard designs, management systems, growing environments and philosophies. As a result, I was better able to understand my local environment back here in Australia, and to provide better advice as an agronomist. Some of the best lessons I learned about the apple industry were not specific to the management of high density orchards.
How did the knowledge gained on your Churchill Fellowship benefit wider apple industry?
At the time, I was working for a large apple grower as well as owning a small orchard with my wife. Initially I was active in the local industry group, but I came to realize that the future of food production is small, mixed farms supplying the local community with fresh, seasonal produce. This is what leads to stronger, healthier communities and is sustainable into the future.
Any major achievements or milestones reached since going on your Fellowship?
We have shown that a small, mixed farm supplying the local community with fresh wholesome food is a viable economic alternative. For the past 15 years my wife Michelle and I have been running a small, mixed farm that is certified organic. Over that time we have had no other source of income, and have managed to raise four healthy and independent young adults. We were heavily involved in the establishment of the weekly Mount Gambier Farmers Market, and the Australian Network of Organic Orchardists.
What is next for you?
Continuing to refine a model for small scale farming, continuing to spread the word that localised food production is the best way to build strong and healthy communities and continuing to encourage as many people as possible to start growing food for their local communities, all over Australia.
Travel overseas to grow your horticulture expertise - three Churchill Fellowships sponsored by Hort Innovation Australia will be offered for award in 2020.