Thiru Murugan

All berry good after a fruitful career

GREIG Ireland retires today after more than 38 years of working with plants, vegetables, flowers and fruit, 32 of them in Coffs Harbour.

“It's been a great career - I've loved it,” he said

The well known Department of Primary Industries horticulturalist, one of the Department's two blueberry industry development officers for NSW, will not be replaced.

His departure leaves Peter Newley as the only DPI horticulturalist in a district which now supplies a wide variety of horticultural produce - from blueberries, avocados, bananas, garlic and vegetables to nursery plants, herbs and cut flowers.

His retirement leaves Phil Wilk as the only blueberry industry development officer in the State for a sunrise agricultural industry which is still in its development stage.

It has been particularly important for Coffs Coast farmers, who have been able to use blueberries to diversify from bananas.

Mr Ireland, who has taken voluntary redundancy, says he has been spending 80 per cent of his working time recently on blueberry industry projects.

After Greig Ireland graduated from Wagga Agricultural College he worked at Griffith Research Station; Yanco Agricultural Centre and Bathurst Research Station, working with viticulture, irrigation, stone and pome fruits and citrus.

He had always wanted to work with tropical fruit and he moved to Alstonville in 1975 and Coffs Harbour in June 1976.

He oversaw the rapid expansion of kiwifruit and avocados in the late 1970s and the introduction of exotic fruits like nasho pear and persimmons, with all their problems.

The job expanded to include vegetables and then ornamental horticulture as well, with nurseries and cut flower growers.

The big success was blueberries, which arrived as the banana industry was experiencing a downturn and saw growers achieving an average return of $80,000 a hectare in 2005.

Although this had now reduced to about $25,000, Greig Ireland said some growers were doing better and the industry still had export potential, although it was being hindered by the high Australian dollar.

Always interested in flowers, even as a toddler, Greig has been appointed as the 2009 selector for Australia's Open Garden Scheme on the Coffs Coast and had already put his name down as a volunteer in the Botanic Garden.

The grandfather of five is also planning to spend more time with his wife and family and do more work in their various home gardens, as well as working with the elderly and disabled and the odd game of golf or bowls.

“I might even renew my fishing licence,” he said.

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