Hort Innovation Churchill Fellow Sally Dakis shares her Fellowship experience
2 Sep 2019
What was your Churchill Fellowship research?
Australia’s fresh cherry industry is expanding rapidly with Tasmania at the forefront of late season export varieties. Along with new and expanding markets for first quality fruit in Asia there is a concomitant increasing volume of ‘seconds’ cherries that have a value outside the fresh market but are not yet being utilised in Australia. I set out to look at the range of processed and value added cherry products that might be a good fit with the Tasmanian industry.
Why did you apply for a Churchill Fellowship – what was the motivation?
My husband and I have a middle-size, intensive cherry orchard and I was keen to use as much of the crop as possible. Undertaking a Churchill Fellowship gave me the network, opportunity and the financial support to visit processors overseas that might offer inspiration, expertise, advice and leadership in the area.
How did the Churchill Fellowship benefit you as a grower?
It helped me connect with other growers, both small scale and very large enterprises in the UK, the US and France, where some operators are well advanced with cherry manufacturing (the US) and others which were undergoing a revival (the UK). I was able to see how different countries and growers were investing in R & D, branding and marketing products, and how they were developing short and long supply chain agreements.
How did the knowledge gained on your Churchill Fellowship benefit the horticulture industry (e.g. the wider cherry industry)?
The study revealed that there are new and innovative cherry products that are being developed, but only after significant investment in research. The products were spread across a range of sectors, individually quick frozen cherries, recuperative sports drinks, nutraceuticals, beverages, condiments and the food ingredient market. Some new products were developed in association with universities, or in tandem with multi-national food manufacturers and backed with robust science. Technology also plays a big role in particular with cherries, in that cherries need to be pipped with the final product as free as possible from fragments. Given the Tasmanian cherry industry has a relatively short season, it makes sense to develop partnerships with other food or fruit industries to warrant investment and to utilise equipment year round. It was clear to me that unless large cherry companies had significant backing, partnerships ought to be established in order to capture more value from ‘seconds’ cherries on an industry wide basis.
What is next for you?
I could imagine playing a role locally with the Tasmanian cherry industry through Fruit Growers Tasmania, and further developing the Tasmanian cherry industry’s Farm Gate visitor experience.
Travel overseas to grow your horticulture expertise - three Churchill Fellowships sponsored by Hort Innovation Australia will be offered for award in 2020.