Sunraysia Nurseries is a Proprietary, Limited, Family Company. It had its small beginnings in 1952 on three vacant house blocks leased by Peter Smith in Mildura Victoria. This was the year Peter commenced working with the CSIRO Research Station at Merbein Victoria, having graduated from Burnley Horticultural College Victoria.
It was also the year in which he met his future wife, partner and Co-Director, Lois. Together they worked in their spare time to produce field grown deciduous fruit trees, roses and citrus trees.
In 1961 they moved their nursery to the present head office. A 14.4 Hectare (36 acre) site at Gol Gol, New South Wales.
Throughout the 1960’s, Peter and Lois, together with an ever-increasing group of nursery craftsmen, concentrated their efforts on the production of deciduous fruit trees, roses, grapevine rootlings, citrus and olive trees.
Grapevine production soon took ascendancy and remains today the major crop of this Nursery. This is to be expected when one appreciates the fact that the Sunraysia district is the largest grape-growing region in Australia.
The Nursery’s demand for land grew and an 18 Hectare. (45 acre) property was purchased at Trentham Cliffs, New South Wales in 1972. The field grown grapevine rootling nursery was moved to that site, in order to make way for the development of the container grown nursery at Gol Gol.
The transition to container growing was completed at Gol Gol in 1975 when a number of evergreen fruit tree lines were added to the production inventory such as avocados and passionfruit, together with the development of ornamental plant production.
Lois Smith leads the ornamental production section. It produces a wide range of both ‘garden’ and ‘house’ plants. This section uses conventional mist over cable heated propagating beds, in controlled environment propagation green houses (fibreglass clad). Oil fired heat exchange units deliver hot air below benches and evaporative coolers deliver ducted cool air to the apex of these houses whilst exhaust fans are used to extract hot air.
The field nursery’s demand for land increased (to facilitate rotational cropping) to the point where it was moved, in 1980, to a new site at Wemen, Victoria, some i1h hours drive by road from the Gol Gol site. The field nursery section is led by Ron McInnes who joined Sunraysia Nurseries in 1971. In 1996 a further 100 acres of virgin land which neighbours the original property was purchased and converted to use as a field nursery.
In years of high demand, the field nursery sets in excess of 2,000,000 grapevine cuttings, consisting of more than 100 varieties. These vines service the table grape, the dried fruits and the wine industries.
The year 1980 not only saw the move to Wemen, but also the development of a retail garden centre, which is operated as a division of Sunraysia Nurseries.
The garden centre purchases some of its inventory from Sunraysia Nurseries but by no means all. The Garden Centre was upgraded and extended in 1995 to provide giftware and restaurant facilities so that Sunraysia residents and tourists alike could all enjoy a ‘gardening experience’.
The container grown fruit section is led by Lila Barnes who joined Sunraysia Nurseries in its year of establishment at Gol Gol. She heads a team of dedicated Plantsmen who produceCitrus, Grafted Grapevines, Avocados, Olives, Passionfruit, Quandongs and numerous other fruiting species.
In addition to the production section, the nursery also consists of other departments. The maintenance section is led by Jeff Riordan, who joined the nursery in 1995. The sales department is headed by Annette Fraser who joined in 1980; whilst the Accounting Department is headed by Corey Jessup who has been with the Nursery since 1990.
For the purpose of inventory control, the container production sections are divided into irrigation bays with numbered beds inside of each bay. Each section has environment controlled green houses, single skin poly houses or 40% shade. The container fruit production section also has ‘intermittent fog’ available for ‘soft wood’ cutting production.
The Nursery has conducted a number of trials, which conclusively indicates the need for container plants to be produced under no more than 40% shade. The Nursery is located in a dry desert environment and the solar radiation levels received at this latitude of 34° South, grossly inhibit root development within the container if ‘grown on’ in full light. We have recorded temperatures of 45°C in the root zone of pots situated in full light.
Nursery hygiene is of paramount importance. Staff, clients and their vehicles are asked to move through feet and wheel baths before entering the production areas of the Nursery. All containerised plants are grown in potting media that has been aerated steam pasteurised at 60°C for 30 minutes and are irrigated with chlorinated water to ensure they are supplied free of nematodes and other soil borne diseases.
The Nursery adheres rigidly to the principal of stringent propagule selection. State and Industry run propagule multiplication and distribution schemes (Citrus and Grapevines) are always patronised and promoted.
In addition to the plant nursery, the enterprise also farms 34 Hectares (85 acres) of wine grapes, 16 Hectares (40 acres) of citrus orchard and 6 Hectares (15 acres) of registered stock plants. Sunraysia Nurseries sustains a permanent staff of 48 as well as 100 plus casuals when things get busy.