At the Citrus Technical Forum Awards Dinner, Citrus Australia inducted two additional members of the industry into the Hall of Fame: Robert Lochert and Russell Witcombe. This year’s Citrus Technical Forum, which FreshPlaza attended, drew around 350 people from throughout the Australian citrus industry to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Robert Lochert and his brother John bought their father’s business, Lochert Bros Pty Ltd, when they were 19 years old, and have dedicated their lives to the citrus industry ever since. From 1978 to 1999, the company grew at a rate of sevenfold every seven years, and he worked hard to gain a thorough understanding of the superior quality of Australian citrus and to identify market potential throughout Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. Lochert Bros. was at the forefront of individual packers taking responsibility of their own marketing and exports, and was instrumental in the implementation of in-house inspections. The organisation was the first packhouse in Australia to receive a Certificate of Assurance for Citrus Export to Non-Phytosanitary Countries Without AQIS Inspection. With packhouse technology, they continued to achieve firsts in the Australian citrus sector for generations. Through his devotion to quality and product innovation, Robert is credited with making the Crusta brand one of the most well-known in the country.
Russell Witcombe is most recognised for his work as the Managing Director of Mildura Fruit Company, which paved the way for Australia’s future packing sheds. Sun Garden Packers and the Mildura Co-operative Fruit Company amalgamated in April 1997 to become Mildura Fruit Company, a citrus packing and marketing joint venture. Russell was named Managing Director, and during his tenure, he increased the number of growers from 30 to 150, including 20 important suppliers, and drew fruit from a 500-kilometer radius. MFC grew to become Australia’s largest packer/exporter of citrus, and he became a recognised figure in the sector, with a managerial style that encouraged and inspired employees at all levels. Russell left the citrus sector in Australia in 2011, but not without leaving an indelible impression. MFC was packing close to 3,000,000 boxes per season by the end of Russell’s tenure.
Western Australia received a new Emerging Leader award. Harvey Citrus, founded by Andrew Pergoliti, has evolved from the family farm. He has led an owner-operated business through a period of rapid growth while still finding time to contribute to the industry as a whole.