Ann Furner shares her passion for high quality regional produce grown right in her own backyard at Yenda and how the prune industry continues to flourish and put the Griffith region on the map, attracting interest from both national and international suppliers.
Ann Furner’s recipe is a rich and fresh take on the popular traditional dessert, crème caramel and celebrates her local region of Griffith’s Italian heritage and food industries with its included ingredients of prunes, Botrytis Semillon wine and amaretti biscuits.
Ann produces prunes at her property at the village of Yenda with her husband and three young children, and enjoys using her produce daily in a myriad of recipes for her family.
“Prunes are very versatile – I mix them into a puree form with hot water and put them into fruit smoothies, I make scones, cakes and slices, and I also cook with them in various savoury dishes, even just to snack on…”
Ann has an extensive background as a horticulturalist and it was through liaising with other growers in 2009 she purchased her current property and began growing prunes.
After a couple of challenging initial first seasons, she is now reaping the benefits of a prospering industry thanks to stronger returns for growers, a growing number of buyers/processors, and water availability for the Griffith region.
When I speak to Ann, who is also Industry Development Officer for the Australian Prune Industry Australia, she is also expanding her prune growing capacity, busy planting a further 30 acres of young plum trees to add to her current production of 16 acres when they reach full maturity in six to seven years.
She says the supply of Australian prunes currently originates from two main growing regions with about 95 per cent of prune production at Griffith, Yenda, Bilbul, Hanwood, Darlington Point and Coleambally, and other growers are located at Young in NSW.
“The availability of water has certainly made it more viable for prune growers here in the Griffith region and the individual growers have the infrastructure required including the dehydrating tunnels used to dry the fruit…”
The production of prunes is an interesting process beginning with the laborious task of harvesting all the fruit. This normally takes place during February and early March.
“To get ours harvested, we employ a contractor and every individual tree is shaken and the fruit caught in the machine. The fruit is then put into bins and transported to a nearby farm where they are processed with the fresh plums put through hot tunnels blowing hot air across the fruit to dry it out,” Ann says.
The drying process to reduce the moisture to 18 per cent in the plums takes between 15 and 18 hours, also then transforming them into ‘prunes’.
They are then sent to another processor in Yenda where they are graded into sizes before being finally sent to Irymple near Mildura for rehydration (to 30 per cent moisture) and they are packaged through Angas Park and then packed on supermarket shelves.
“There’s a really positive feeling among prune growers at the moment. There are a few factors influencing this – we now have a third buyer in our market with the entry of Sunsweet Co-operative (California), which is the biggest processors of prunes in the world, now searching for Australian supply to guarantee enough produce. So now our prunes are processed by Sunsweet, Angas Park near Mildura, or through Verity Fruits at Young.”
“That has certainly renewed interest in the industry and driven up the local price for local farmers.”
Ann went on to say that in further signs of positivity for the industry, longstanding second and third generation farming families have progressively expanded their properties and their scope for productivity and profitability.
So, it is certainly anticipated the prune industry will be in full bloom this season, and as Ann has revealed, it’s not just being indicated through the abundance of spring blossoms adorning the sugar plum trees.
Words: Rosie O’Keeffe