Riverland’s Venus Citrus a third-generation success story

For the past 40 years, Riverland citrus company, P.Costi and Sons has been contributing to South Australia’s economy through horticulture and boosting the region’s population by employing locals and overseas workers.

Its Venus Citrus brand of fruit has become highly sought after globally, especially in Asia and among Australian consumers.

The company’s founder, the late Peter Costi, who died in 1995, labelled his oranges Venus Citrus after his homeland, the Island of Venus in Cyprus.

And it seems as if Venus, the goddess of love, beauty and inspiration, has shone down on the Loxton-based company, contributing to its direction and ability to survive some tough years, including the drought during 2009 to 2012.

Peter Costi moved to SA’s Riverland in 1973 from Sydney and soon established himself as a citrus grower and packer, selling his own fruit at a stand at the Melbourne market.

He set up P. Costi and Sons in 1977.

Venus Citrus exports citrus gift boxes to China.

Managing director and marketing manager for Venus Citrus Helen Aggeletos, who has worked for the company her father established for 30 years, attributes hard work and commitment to its achievements.

The third-generation family business exports produce it sources from 38 Riverland citrus growers to more than 20 countries around the world.

The beautifully packaged Venus Citrus oranges and mandarins can also be found in supermarkets in most Australian capital cities.

The company employs 75 people at the peak of the citrus season and 60% of these staff are from the Riverland.

The rest are backpackers, a group of Pacific Islanders employed under the Federal Government’s seasonal workers’ scheme and eight staff from overseas, who have been sponsored to work in Australia by P. Costi and Sons.

These sponsored workers come from countries such as France, Belgium, Italy, Japan and South Korea and initially came to the Riverland as backpackers.

After four years, they will be able to apply for permanent residency to make Loxton home.

Helen says the Riverland company has had to take some risks to remain viable even when faced with a drought in 2009.

Matthew, Sam and Brad Lloyd from L.D. Lloyd and Sons in Lyrup, 28km north of Loxton, grow ecologically certified fruit for Venus Citrus’ Eco Brand.

“At the start of the drought, we were in a more comfortable cash flow position, so we actually gave bonuses to growers in addition to our normal payments to help them buy water,” she says.

Helen says when the weather conditions and future of the citrus industry improved in 2014, her family took the brave step of redeveloping the company.

“We were on our knees at the end of those three years as well, we were not immune to the whole situation,” she says.

The transformation included training nine of their key growers to become ecologically certified, developing a new logo and new packaging.

She says to be ecologically certified, growers can only use low toxic chemicals for pest and disease control, and only if there is no biological solution.

It is the first time such ecological methods have been used by citrus growers in Australia.

In November last year, China formally recognised the Riverland as a Pest Free Area for all horticultural produce.

It means SA’s horticultural produce can be shipped directly to China without having to be treated for fruit fly because the state is free of the pest.

Helen says not having to cold sterilise their citrus gives SA citrus growers an economic advantage of $2.80 a carton over their interstate counterparts.

Another record year is expected for the Australian citrus industry and the Chinese market has been a significant contributor, she adds.

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Murraylands dried fruit producers urge shoppers to pick local

Fourth-generation apricot producers in the Murraylands are encouraging shoppers to choose local when buying dried fruit products to support growers and keep the industry afloat.

Dried fruit producer Paul Prosser has been growing apricots on his Mypolonga property, about 15km from Murray Bridge, for decades.

In the last 15 years, he and wife Kathy have run their own dried fruit business Aussie Apricots, consisting of dried fruits, confectionery, jams and chutneys.

They grow, hand pick and cut apricots by hand and machine before processing, sun drying and sorting the fruit.

Entertaining Tawnya Bahr chef/tour guide from Sydney

A post shared by Kathy Prosser (@aussie_apricots_) on


The Prossers grow a variety of apricots including Morpark, Storey, Hunter, Riviera, Riverbright species.

One patch of their apricot orchard is three generations old and they plan to plant a further 750 trees this year.

The Prossers say their dried apricots are rich in colour and the flesh is soft – two attributes to look out for when searching for high quality, locally grown and produced dried fruit products.

The apricot season is in full swing in summertime, when Aussie Apricots’ pickers are “flat out” hand-picking the fruit, often in 38-40C heat.

Apricots sun-drying at the Prosser’s drying facilities at Mypolonga.

Last season’s haul (earlier this year) was a healthy six tonnes of dried fruit.

Kathy says growing apricots is relatively disaster free, but a harvest’s success relies heavily on the weather.

“If we have reasonable weather conditions, it’s not so bad,” she says.

“The only issue is that you have only one crop per year so you only get one chance.”

Aussie Apricots employs a small team of regular full time employees, with its workforce swelling to about 30 casuals during harvest.

The Prossers also grow peaches, oranges, avocados and figs and source fruit from six other growers in the region.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s an achievement because without us they (other growers) would be struggling to sell their product,” Paul says.

Once picked and cut, the apricots are laid out in a specialised sun drying house for three or four days before being washed, sized and sorted.

They then undergo a dehydration process before being packaged and sold to supermarkets and green grocers across SA and interstate.

The apricots are also processed into confectionery, jams and chutneys.

Kathy and Paul also produce a skincare range of apricot soaps, sourcing buffalo and cows milk from the region’s last few existing dairies.

They hope the skincare products will appear on IGA shelves soon.

To find an Aussie Apricots stockist click here.

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Crusta juice plant back in Riverland hands

The Crusta Fruit Juices site at Ramco in the Riverland is back in the hands of a local family who say the reacquisition of the facility is good news for local citrus growers.

Lochert Bros. Pty Ltd sold the plant to drinks giant Coca Cola Amatil in 2004, but has now “seized the opportunity” to buy it back for the “benefit of the Riverland and South Australia”.

The site is located opposite Lochert Bros.’ existing orange packing facility and is the only Riverland based processing plant able to hold large volumes of citrus for storage and distribution.

While the sale included the land, buildings and all juicing and storage facilities, it doesn’t include the Crusta brand name or company.

The former Crusta site adjacent to Lochert Bros.’ existing packing house at Ramco, near Waikerie.

The first batch of oranges are already rolling along the production line to be juiced for two juicing companies, one in SA and the other in NSW.

Lochert Bros.’ founding managing director Robert Lochert says the company has no plans to launch its own line of juice or bring back the Crusta name.

“But there has certainly been a lot of community support and people saying they would love to have Crusta juice back in the marketplace,” he says.

“But at this stage it’s not part of the plan, we can’t reinvent history.”

The company says in a statement on its Facebook page that demand for quality oranges will increase due to China’s acceptance of South Australia’s fruit fly free status.

“This will enable Lochert Bros. to pay higher prices for oranges exported to China in 2018,” the statement says.

“Lochert Bros. will be talking to growers about additional supplies of both navel and Valencia Oranges for 2018 and beyond.”

Robert says the feedback from the community has been positive and that the prosperity of local growers is of high importance to the company.

“It’s always been a part of our philosophy that we look after growers because if there are no oranges growing, then we don’t have a business,” he says.

Lochert Bros. staff Shawn Wood, left, Peter Kuchel, James Lochert, Lochert Bros. owner Robert Lochert, factory manager Timothy Lochert, and Mel Brisco.

Robert has been packing citrus since 1961, before the Crusta brand was established a decade later in 1971.

His father was also a Riverland citrus packer, starting out in the business in the early 1940s.

“We have always taken fruit from the Riverland, mostly from around Waikerie,” Robert says.

“Of the fruit that we pack, the majority is exported overseas … we have been involved in exports for 30-40 years.

“We supply markets in Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, China and Japan.”

Lochert Bros. Pty Ltd packs about 20,000 tonnes of fruit a year.

Three new staff have been employed at the Crusta site and Robert says additional work will be on offer to Lochert Bros.’ casual and part time workers.

“I hope to build the business up,” he says.

Watch below: the first oranges in close to a year enter the former Crusta juice factory. SOURCE: Lochert Bros. Facebook.

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You know you’re from the Riverland when …

You’re aboard a houseboat, canoe or paddle steamer most weekends, you’ve had a few rowdy nights at Rivaz and you know how hot it really gets in summer.

You’re from the mighty Riverland, the region abundant in citrus, almonds and wine grapes and with the glorious Murray River on its doorstep.

But how do you know if you’re a real Riverlander? Here are 24 ways to find out.

1. You never buy oranges or apricots from the supermarket. You pick them by the bucket load from the orchard out the back!

2. Your shoes almost stuck to the bitumen when it reached 48.2C in Renmark on the stinker of a day that was February 7, 2009. Yes, 48.2C.

3. You’ve been brave enough to zip along the river in a tinny at the annual Riverland Dinghy Derby (or just cheered from the sidelines).

4.  You’ve had a yarn with Frank ‘The Chook Man’ Turton on the MV Willitsinkorwontit.

5. Your weekends in winter are spent between the netball court and footy oval.

6. You reeled in carp, one after the other, at the SA Carp Frenzy at Lake Bonney.

7. Seeing a flock of sheep ram-paging down Barmera’s main street is not that unusual.

The annual Running of the Sheep in Barmera is one of the town’s quirkiest events. PHOTO: Berri Barmera Council Facebook.

8. You’ve carved up the d-floor at Rivaz in Renmark or Club V (or The Vines as some might remember) in Berri.

9. You’re a proud Loxton Lights goer and firmly believe it’s the best festive display in SA.

10. Summers are spent pulling the boat up to a sandbar in the river and having a swim.

11. You’ve enjoyed a beer at the Woolshed Brewery or sipped on a sangria at Caudo Vineyard.

If one hasn’t enjoyed a cold beer at the Woolshed Brewery in Murtho is one even a Riverlander?

12. You know what Wednesday nights mean at the Loxton Club. Schnitty night, correct. Quiz night, also correct.

13. You know that ‘Cobby’ is short for Cobdogla. You also know that Loveday, Winkie and Pyap are actual places.

14. You’ve made it to the social pages of the Murray Pioneer, Loxton News or River News.

15. You know to watch out for grape spills on the road during harvest season.

16. You’ve done the wetland walk at Banrock Station and grazed on a tasting platter on the deck.

Relaxing on the deck at Banrock Station at Kingston-on-Murray is a pretty good way to end the week.

17. You’ve heard of speed demon Sir Donald Campbell and his record-breaking attempt in the Bluebird on Lake Bonney.

18. You’ve hung out on Industry Road, Renmark, opposite Maccas with a cheeseburger in hand.

19. You know what a lock is (the other kind).

20. You’ve made the arduous three-hour journey home to the Riverland on a Sunday afternoon after a big weekend in Adelaide.

21. You know how to grow a giant winning pumpkin.

Giant vegetables at the Murray River Giant Pumpkin Competition at the Cadell Harvest Festival. PHOTO: Facebook.

22. The Riverland Football League Grand Final is the most important day of the year.

23. You know to not mess with Renmark’s roses in October.

24. You remember the thrill of exploring the Monash Playground.

From the Adelaide Hills instead? Check out ‘You know you’re from the Adelaide Hills when …’

More of a city slicker? Here are 22 signs you’re from South Australia.