Satisfaction from product to prices and every step in between sees one fig farm in northern Victoria tick every box in fruit production. ANDY WILSON paid a visit.

Santo Romeo runs Figtasia Farms at Shepparton East with a crew of nearly two dozen pickers and 15 packing shed staff and is proud of both his team and his product.

Santo’s father was one of the first (“if not the first,” he assures me) to market figs in Australia in the late 1960s.

That origin has left Santo and his son Joel a legacy of production that has seen the farm supply all Aldi supermarkets in Sydney and Melbourne for nearly 30 years.

Santo’s praise for the Aldi supermarket chain is direct.

“They are very loyal,” Santo said.

“They really work with their growers, and they are easygoing.”

The farm produces figs from 5400 trees covering more than eight hectares.

Yield can vary between trees and seasons with a year’s harvest ranging between 50,000 and 80,000 trays, which can each weight up to 3.5kg each.

Because figs ripen in succession along a branch, any hail damage affects only the single fig that is ripe, while the remaining unripe ones can withstand the impact and continue growing.

Irrigation timing is essential for a good crop.

“The watering is a big one for them, it can be a big issue; they love their water, and they love it regularly,” Santo said.

“If you don’t water them on time, their leaves will droop and turn yellow.”

Santo’s trees show no sign of any slip-ups: they are all a rich green, despite the species not liking too much nitrogen in the soil.

“They love their seaweed products.”

One of the biggest advantages of fig cultivation is the resilience of the trees to hailstorms.

Because the figs ripen in sequence along the branch, only the most vulnerable fig that is ready to pick at the end of the branch gets damaged; the remaining unripe figs are hard enough to withstand hail.

The next harvests are preserved and ripen in sequence along the branch.

Senior packer Sarina Omer moved from Kuala Lumpur in 2019 and set to work on the farm straight away.

“I touched down on a Tuesday and on Wednesday I was picking here,” Sarina said.

“And of course I enjoy it (because) we have a nice boss in a nice environment and good teamwork.”

Senior packer Sarina Omer was picking at the farm the day after arriving from Kuala Lumpa in 2019.

Among the trees can be found 10 pickers from New Guinea and 12 from Vanuatu.

John San came from Vanuatu two years ago with partner Josephine Iapup and has the role of unofficial foreman.

“We teach the new people how to pick the figs, how they can’t be green,” John said.

John has moved between Shepparton and Swan Hill over the past two years, picking figs in both regions.

Josephine has picked strawberries in Brisbane and gone further afield.

“In Darwin, I pick the mango,” she said.

John San and Josephine Iapup have been working at Figtasia Farms for two years.

Any overflow of harvest is absorbed by two Sydney distributors and a Melbourne pear company, and in Queensland, Santo’s figs grace the thriving auction floor of Brisbane’s famous Rocklea Markets.

While people with Middle Eastern heritage comprise the main market, Santo believes the fig is being embraced by all Australians, not least for their health benefits.

“They are packed with antioxidants so are very healthy.

“They are getting some really good write-ups.”