The fruit industry is extensive, covering production, processing and marketing of tree fruits (e.g. peaches, apples), berries, nuts, vine fruits (e.g. passionfruit, grapes) and others (e.g. pineapple). Fruits are eaten fresh, or processed (e.g. juices, wines, spirits, dried fruits, frozen fruits) or used as additives or flavourings (e.g. vanilla essence, strawberry ice cream). The global wine industry alone was estimated worth over US$300 billion in 2017.
Scope of Work
Orchards and farms can be smaller than an acre or many hundreds of acres. Some grow fruit in greenhouses; but most grow in the open. Small operations are commonly family businesses, and may be less automated. Farm work can involve a lot of manual work (e.g. pruning, plant protection, picking), though larger, modern operations often use sophisticated equipment for monitoring and managing crops (e.g. automated irrigation, mechanical harvesting).
Fruit processing may be in large factories or small, on or off-farm, boutique operations. Larger factories may employ many on the factory floor, doing repetitive, manual work. While work may involve manual tasks, it can be diverse, interesting and even quite creative in a smaller boutique operation.
Everyday tasks include things like spraying for pests and diseases, weed control, feeding, watering and harvesting. Some of these things may be done manually depending on the nature and scope of the fruits being produced, the size of the facility and costs. Otherwise, they may be automated and carried out by machines.
What You Need to Learn
Basic botany - Taxonomy, flower and fruit anatomy and physiology
Plant knowledge - Knowledge of different fruit cultivars, names, and uses; and weed species,
Harvest & post-harvest - Knowledge of harvesting methods & equipment, processing (if relevant e.g. drying fruit, wine making), storage
Cultural management techniques - Pruning plants, watering frequency and duration, planting, transplanting, staking, mulching
Health management - Plant pests, diseases and environmental disorders, biosecurity
Environmental control - Managing ventilation, water, temperature, light, carbon dioxide
Soils - Potting media & soil structure, chemistry, management techniques e.g. improving soils, aeration, etc.
Tools & equipment - Selection of the right tool for the job, cleaning tools, correct operation & use, maintenance & repair
Communication skills - Dealing with clients, arranging appointments, giving advice
Sales skills - How to interact with customers, sell fruit, earn repeat business, network with suppliers, place orders, keep inventories, marketing, advertising
Health & safety - Assessment of risks & hazards, protective equipment, fire alarms & drills, first aid kits, basic first aid procedures
Starting a Career
There are many pathways into working with fruit crops – and it’s quite possible to learn as you go. The most important to thing is to start gathering experience and plant knowledge. Opportunities for beginners include:
Entry level work or fruit picking for an orchard or fruit grower
Work with a cut flower producer
Working as a garden assistant
Volunteer work is an excellent way to learn about plants, how they grow, how to prune them, and so forth so that you have a solid foundation before searching for work in fruit farms. Volunteer opportunities include:
Volunteering at a garden centre or working with a plant society
Getting involved with local parks and gardens
Joining planting days in parks in your area
Progressing a Career
Work in fruit farms and orchards can be advanced to supervisory or managerial type positions through shear hard work and determination. This depends to some extent on the size of the operation. Larger orchards will employ more staff and have greater need for a hierarchy of roles. Smaller ones may have less delineation. There are also other roles which those working in this industry could aim for such as product development (e.g. testing out new fruit cultivars), becoming a rep of the business (e.g. visiting buyers, like supermarkets, and establishing contracts), or working more in marketing and advertising. Of course, some employees will ultimately seek to establish their own fruit farms once they have learnt the ropes.
Joining trade associations or bodies is a good way to keep up to date with current trends and technological advancements in the industry. Attending garden shows, agricultural shows and trade shows is another way to learn by networking with like-minded people.
A good way to fill any gaps in your knowledge is through attending workshops and seminars, or undertaking further study. Any courses taken should be ones which help to reinforce what you learn rather than quick fix courses. They can be evening courses or courses provided by distance education, so long as the course providers have suitably qualified tutors who can provide adequate feedback.