Woolworths has awarded a $414,000 grant to a South Australian family-owned organic date farm.
The grant to Gurra Downs Date Company is part of an overall $1,140,000 in funding for organic growers from the latest round of Woolworths Organic Growth Fund.
Gurra Downs Date Company is based in the Riverland region of South Australia and is run by Dave, Anita and Shaun Reilly. The family has been growing organic produce for more than 30 years and planted salt-tolerant date trees in the early 1990s to adapt to irrigation water from the Gurra-Gurra wetlands.
While dates are gaining popularity among Australian consumers, local supply remains limited as the domestic market relies on imported dates from countries like Mexico and the US to meet demand, Woolworths says.
The grant will provide Reilly's Packhouse with an increase in capacity and new equipment to wash, dry, sort and sort the fruit, reducing extensive manual labor and increasing overall production capacity.
“We can get the fruit off the trees quickly, but when we get to the packhouse everything slows down because we don't have the right equipment to process it quickly,” says Dave Reilly.
“The Woolworths grant will help us develop a packaging facility with processing equipment that can efficiently handle larger volumes and create value-added opportunities for our fruit.
"By expanding our production capabilities, more Australian-grown, organic Medjool dates are being consumed by Australian families like mine."
The grant also marks the start of a new partnership that will see Gurra Downs dates stocked at select Woolworths stores.
“We are proud to support Australian family businesses who are planting the seeds to meet the demand for organic produce for years to come,” says Woolworth's Commercial Director of Fruit & Veg Paul Turner.
“Over the last three years, demand for organic fruit and vegetables has increased by around 30% as consumers become more interested in where their food comes from and how it is grown.
“We will always choose Australian fruit and vegetables first. By supporting local growers like Reillys, we can help our customers add more Australian produce to their shopping baskets every week.”
Adelaide Hills Business SA Organic Strawberries also received a $232,000 grant from Woolworths' Organic Growth Fund to install packing shed technology that helps cool strawberries quickly and removes heat after harvest to preserve quality and extend shelf life for customers.
The Fund has also made an interest-free loan of $500,000 to Victorian company Butler Market Greens. The loan will help the company double its organic production and increase water efficiency through irrigation upgrades and expansion.
The sixth round of Woolworths Organic Growth Fund is now open. Woolworths is inviting farmers to apply by February 28.