Meet the growers: Andrew Pergoliti

Like many precious little bundles, it takes roughly nine months for Andrew Pergoliti's lemons, limes, mandarins and oranges to grow from flower to succulent fruit.

Andrew Pergoliti

A lifetime of growing citrus has taught Andrew Pergoliti almost all there is to know about the zesty fruit.

For Andrew Pergoliti, it's hard to imagine his father Steve being anything other than a fruit grower. In 1982, the very year of Andrew's birth, Steve and his wife Pina planted orange and mandarin trees on their land in Harvey, 140km south of Perth, launching a farming legacy that continues today.

Prior to Andrew's birth, Steve, an Italian immigrant, was rarely home as he worked day and night to provide for his wife and three older children, plus tuck away some savings for his farming dream.

"On weekends he used to cut timber, in the evenings he worked at Harvey Beef and during the day he worked at an orchard and just loved it," says Andrew, now 40. "He started to think, 'Why don't I just work for myself?' So he saved and saved and eventually bought 10 acres in Harvey. It took three or four years before the trees had grown enough to start producing enough fruit to support our family."

By the time Andrew had reached kindergarten, afternoons, weekends and school holidays were often spent up a tree, as he learnt to spot the fruit ripe for picking. "Dad would go into local Coles stores and green grocers with boxes and say, 'I've got fruit! Do you need it?'" Andrew recalls. "After a while Coles management called and asked him to bring his fruit to the main distribution centre, and everything built from there."

Growth mindset

After leaving school, Andrew briefly tried an automotive apprenticeship but the lure of the land proved too great. "I came back when I was 17 in time to expand, buying another 20 acres here, 30 acres there until we hit the 230 acres we have around the Harvey region today," he says. "By the time I came back to the farm, my older siblings had already established their own careers and families, so it's now myself and my wife Carly, along with my parents, running things."

More acreage has meant greater growing opportunities, with the Pergolitis using their perfect loamy soil to expand into seedless lemons and limes along with red grapefruit and avocados. "My favourite would have to be the Imperial mandarins," he says. "It's always the first fruit of the season and I always remember the taste and the smell. They're a tough one to grow, but in our region we get really good flavour and no problems with dryness – everyone loves them."

A love of citrus runs in the family, with his children, Ethan, eight, and Alyssa, six, keen to taste-test the produce their father has lovingly grown. "We just have a basic juicer at home and make a jug of orange juice every few days – we love it," Andrew says. "When we have an abundance of lemon or limes, we freeze the juice in ice blocks and drop it in a glass of water."

Flourishing fruit

A lifetime of citrus growing has taught Andrew more than most about producing zesty citrus. "A lot goes into it," he says. "We're spraying nutrients like seaweed into the soil to keep the trees healthy, using certain pruning techniques to let more light in and give the fruit more colour, and constantly watching growth to try and get the fruit as good as possible."

Of course, one of the biggest challenges of farming remains Mother Nature's whims. "Recently we had one of the wettest seasons on record and if some of the crops get too much water, the skin breaks down too quickly – within two weeks you can lose it," he says. "One of our first crops of seedless lemons were ready to be harvested when a hailstorm just wiped them out. That's farming, I suppose!"

Thankfully, Steve is always on hand to calm Andrew down. "Early on, I used to get pretty stressed but my dad used to say, 'What can you do? There's no point getting too worked up about it'," he says. "It took a few years to get to that mindset that if it's out of your control, it's out of your control. And every year my old man says, 'This year, I think we got it right!'"