Bilpin fruit farmers branch out thanks to million dollar government recovery grants
The Hawkesbury will soon be home to a massive million dollar year round pick-your-own strawberry operation at Bilpin, thanks to government funding aimed at helping communities and businesses recover from last year’s bushfires.
When the Gospers Mountain fire barrelled down on Bilpin last year residents and businesses were severely affected.
The region’s renowned fruit growers were left devastated as the blaze destroyed acres of crops.
But now, state and federal funding is starting to flow and out of the burnt land, new opportunities are growing.
The iconic Bilpin Fruit Bowl lost around 6000 apple trees – about 40 per cent of their crops. But owner Margaret Tadrosse is looking to the future thanks to a $1.23m grant earmarked to clean-up, replace and upgrade existing fire damaged infrastructure, and to develop a new 8000 square metre energy efficient hot house that will allow for undercover pick your own strawberries year round.
“It’s awesome,” Ms Tadrosse told the Post.
“This is going to be fantastic for the community as well as for us. At the moment we have pick-your-own for six months of the year, but this will allow us to plant another 200,000 strawberry plants and that means we will be able to open all year for pick-your-own strawberries.”
Macquarie MP Susan Templeman with Bilpin Fruit Bowl's Margaret Tadrosse
Bilpin Fruit Bowl only had a relatively small patch of strawberries before the blaze and the damage the fire caused led Ms Tadrosse to rethink exactly what they grow.
“We lost 6000 apple trees. We’ve still got about 7000 apple trees but we’re not replanting all those apple trees we lost, we’re putting in cherry trees and we have replanted 1000 fig trees we lost.” The farm also has plums and apricots, while the new hot-house will see all those strawberries available from August 2021.
They open on November 28 for peach picking and once the strawberries are ripe BFB will be open 364 days a year.
“It’s great for the community. It will bring more visitors to Bilpin but it also means more jobs too,” said Ms Tadrosse.
TNT Produce on Kurts Road in Bilpin has also been handed $1.1m to build a 500 square-metre Colorbond shed for entry to the orchard for pick your own fruit, and to purchase additional equipment to assist with the expected increase in the crop coming from the rebuilding of the orchard.
MP for Macquarie, Susan Templeman, welcomed the funding for the two Bilpin orchardists who lost millions of dollars’ worth of produce and infrastructure during the summer bushfires.
“I have spoken to both of these businesses and they are really excited about this funding,” Ms Templeman said.
“Both of these businesses and other orchards received no government compensation for produce that was destroyed when the bushfires swept through in December 2019.
“The losses don’t stop with one year’s crop - it takes about five years to re-establish an apple orchard, so they are still looking at years to recoup that income.
“For one of the businesses, the new grant - which they have to match - will help them diversify to offset that.
“By diversifying into berries, they can extend the picking season and provide more economic certainty for the local region, hopefully extending the tourist visits beyond the traditional apple season.
“Of course, anything that attracts more visitors or visitors that stay longer requires the State Government and Hawkesbury Council to provide suitable infrastructure like road upgrades, parking, toilet facilities; the basic things you need when inviting people to your area so the lifestyle for locals is protected while at the same time shoring up our local economy,” Ms Templeman said.