Article by: Hari Yellina
With the first apple trees for Collins Bros Orchards planted in Pemberton more than a century ago, the company has a rich history. Paddy Collins, the great-grandfather of brothers Murray and Dean Collins, established Collins Siding, the family’s apple orchard, in 1906. Since then, four generations have carried on the family company, steadily growing it by acquiring other properties to create one of the biggest apple orchards in the area. The brothers’ grandfather Tom, who is 96 years old, still drives about the orchard most days. Today, all four generations of the family still reside on the property. Murray Collins stated, “I think he appreciates seeing the fresh advancements and accomplishments we’ve been making, as well as telling us what we’re doing wrong.
In the last five years, their 60-year-old father, Kevin, has also taken a little time away from the company to concentrate on his cattle business. Since cattle are his passion, he has been able to spend more time there recently, attending bull sales and caring for and feeding them, according to Mr. Collins. He still drives the truck for us and loads the cool room. While a lot has remained the same over time, Collins Bros has also made numerous changes to the company to make it operate more effectively. The orchard, which spans around 48 hectares, has roughly 120,000 trees, including Pink Lady, Kanzi, Fuji, Royal Gala, and Granny Smith apple varieties.
Harvest often takes place at the end of March or in April, and apples are chosen for their colour, with a reddish tint being the ideal. The Collins brothers made an investment in a few specialised machines to help in the orchard because the COVID outbreak caused a lack of backpacker labour in the state. Apples were still picked by hand, according to Murray, who runs the orchard with his brother Dean, but the machines used a conveyor belt to move the fruit into a box. “You were constantly walking back and forth since, in the normal situation, you would pick the apples in a bag and carry up to 15 kg of fruit.”
However, since we no longer need bags or ladders, it is less physically taxing on our employees and there are fewer occupational health and safety concerns because there is less chance of a fall and injury while using this equipment. Collins Bros. invested in leaf blowers to open up the canopies of the trees so the apples aren’t being shadowed and can ripen. Traditionally, workers would also strip their trees by hand, but to save themselves some time. According to Mr. Collins, “if we can remove more leaves, we’ll obtain better coloured fruit and a higher number of delicious apples from a tree.”
The Collins family built its own avocado orchard roughly five years ago, proving that they are not just a one-trick pony. Murray and Dean’s brother Tom oversees the business’s avocado division while Jamie manages a different avocado farm that is unrelated to the Collins Brothers’ operations and helps their father with his 350 cattle. On the other side of town from the apple orchard, Collins Bros’ avocado orchard spans roughly 28 hectares and is producing their first crop this year. Although the price of avocados in this area was low due to a glut, Mr. Collins said, “it probably wasn’t the best year to start with” and added, “longer-term we think it’s going to be a successful business.”
Consumers may have discovered their produce in a Delcado package last year since Collins Bros. avocados were sent through Delroys Orchards, while their apples were likely marked with a “Blue Moon” sticker because that is their neighbourhood packaging facility. Looking ahead, Mr. Collins stated that the family was content to concentrate on their three primary products—apples, avocados, and cattle—while considering how they may enhance and possibly extend their current enterprises. Instead of trying to do five or six different things well, Mr. Collins added, “we would like to concentrate on what we have.”