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New focus for region’s oldest avocado orchard

Tom and Donna Duncan are harvesting the final commercial crop of avocados from their Childers property. Avocado Acres is reputed to be the oldest avocado orchard in the Bundaberg Region.

A Childers avocado orchard, reputedly the first such orchard in the region, is scaling back its commercial operation as owners Tom and Donna Duncan OAM focus on their avocado oil skincare range.

Avocado Acres, a 13 hectare (32 acre) property established almost 50 years ago virtually in the heart of Childers, is owned by the prominent local couple.

Donna is well-known for her leading role in caring to survivors of the 2000 Childers Backpacker Hostel fire while Tom has a long and respected association with the local agricultural sector and significant involvement with the Childers Show Society.

The decision by Tom and Donna follows the recent final commercial harvest from the property which at its peak boasted 1000 trees.

“Avocado Acres was the first orchard of its type planted in the Bundaberg area with an initial planting of trees in 1972,” Donna said.

“The first planting was of the Fuerte variety of avocado and was undertaken by a local, Bob Burns. I understand the property originally grew cane.”

Donna and Tom will continue to grow fruit to sell at markets throughout the local and surrounding region.

Additionally, they will focus on continuing to market a range of products created through oil extracted from the avocado.

“We established Essentially Avocado about eight years ago and have continued to produce and market a range of handmade products including lip balm, hand and body cream, oil, soaps and scrubs.

“The products are all natural and ensure that everything except the avocado seed and skin are utilised in producing the range.

“That will keep us more than busy,” Donna said.

Couple move to Childers in 1983

“Tom and I moved to the property in 1983. We were involved in a dairy farm at Mudgeeraba but the signs of the failing dairy industry were becoming apparent.

“We started looking for an alternative venture and found this place. Tom’s brother was involved in growing avocados for the family company at Nerang so there was a bit of background with the fruit.

“I have to say I cried and cried at the decision to leave the Gold Coast area and relocate to Childers but now there isn’t anywhere else we would rather live,” Donna said.

She said there were several reason why the avocado orchard had moved away from commercial production.

“We have issues with an assured water supply; we are surrounded by around 40 neighbours; and unfortunately there has been an increased incidence of theft of fruit from our property given our closeness to the highway.

“And, significantly, we are not as young as we used to be.

“Our water supply has come from two wells but for the first time they are dry. We do not have access to water from the irrigation scheme,” Donna said.

The natural goodness of avocados will continue to be marketed by Tom and Donna Duncan via their avocado oil business Essentially Avocado.

Avocado orchard produces four varieties

The property during its productive life has grown four varieties of avocado – Sharwil, Fuerte, Hass and Wurtz.

“The industry has been good to us. The average tree can produce around 12 trays of avocados with around 20 to 25 avocados per tray,” she said.

The land being cleared of avocado trees may be used for some alternate farming pursuit.

“Tom is not the sort of man to sit around. He needs to keep busy so no doubt he will find a project to keep him occupied.”

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