A small cherry farm is just what a former sheep producer and livestock agent needs to keep him occupied in retirement. Although he is happy to let someone younger do most of the hard work these days. RICK BAYNE reports.

With 50 years of experience as a livestock agent in the region, Koroit Cherry Farm owner Neville Guthridge knows a good bit of land when he sees it.

And he reckons the rich volcanic soil surrounding Tower Hill, near Koroit in south-west Victoria, is good for growing just about anything.

“You won’t find anywhere better,” he says.

“It’s a great area for growing any sort of vegetable; you won’t get much better country than this.”

After selling his sheep farm at Derrinallum, Neville invested in the cherry farm about three years ago. The property had been planted about 15 years earlier.

While he always liked growing vegies, Neville also has fond memories of his grandparents growing fruit in their orchard.

“They’d eat what they could fresh and preserve the rest. It was always ripe on the tree before they’d pick it.”

That freshness of the cherry farm — and the chance to keep an active business connection — appealed to Neville.

“I’d eased off on my work and had a sheep farm at Derrinallum but had a hip replacement so I sold the farm,” he said.

“This came up and I had a nephew working on the grapes in Mildura so I bought it and he looked after it for two-and-a-half years.”

In mid-2023, local horticulturalist Jordan O’Keefe came on board as site manager.

At 73, Neville only works on the business when he feels like it, but he still enjoys seeing the end product.

“I’ve led a fairly active life … you can’t just retire and do nothing,” he said.

“If you stop work, everything stops so you’ve got to have something to do. I get a lot of pleasure out of enterprises like this, plus a bit of disappointment every now and then when things don’t go so well.

“But it’s nice to see people enjoy something that you have produced.”

Neville Guthridge has learnt a lot about local farms during his five decades as a livestock agent.

The 2.4ha property has 1200 cherry trees, 300 olive trees and a smattering of stone fruit and apple trees.

It also had strawberries but they weren’t very profitable and have been canned.

“Supermarkets are selling them so cheap; I don’t know how they grow, pick and pack them at that price. They’d be making no money out of them,” Neville said

He’s happy to step back and let Jordan run the farming side of the business with a focus on maintaining high standards.

“You’ve got to do everything properly or its fails, whether it’s livestock, cropping or cherries. What you put into it, you get back.”

There are 16 different varieties of cherries on the property and it has been a fun learning curve for Jordan who has run a gardening business for three years after doing organic vegetable growing.

Small Farms caught up with the pair during their peak season.

Jordan explains that it’s a fairly intense couple of months, made a bit easier with some varieties maturing earlier than others.

“We usually pick any one variety for two or three weeks at the most but it’s an intensive picking season and we call in three other workers to help,” he said.

The overall season is eight to nine weeks, from late November to early February, with mid to late December being a particularly busy period.

Picked cherries are sold within two or three days, maintaining the focus on fresh produce.

The Koroit Cherry Farm features 16 different types of cherries.

Off-season work mostly involves tree maintenance, though the olives which mature late winter are likely to become a stronger focus.

“They are definitely there as a windbreak but they can also be a supplementary sales option outside of the cherry season,” Jordan said.

“They’re important especially in spring because we get a lot of wind which can blow the flowers off.”

The wind with the coast not far away is also a threat to pollination.

“You need bees to pollinate and they won’t go out when it’s really wet or windy,” Jordan said.

Pruning the trees in the correct manner is a vital part of the farm’s success.

“They should all be pruned at least a little bit every year to maintain the shape of the tree and to select the wood that you want the fruit to grow on,” Jordan said.

The best branches are three to five years old and have better nutrient carrying capacity to produce bigger and better cherries.

“We tend to remove younger wood and thin the tree so there’s less chance of fungal diseases,” Jordan added.

Apart from pruning care, the cherries rely on the right climate.

“What cherries really need is a certain number of chill hours throughout the year, which is why this area is quite good because it gets quite cold,” Jordan said.

Once picked, the cherries are sorted into three grades — the top grade with virtually no blemishes, seconds that sell for $10 less per kilogram, while thirds with a lot of splitting, blemishes or mould are thrown out.

Jordan O’Keefe sorts the latest cherry crop.

“If a cherry gets wet on a tree and stays wet for a while, the fruit will suck the water in through the skin and you’ll get some splitting,” Jordan said.

“They go into seconds and if the stem comes off, they go into seconds because they will start to grow mould.”

The most popular varieties are the crunchy and juicy Stella, big heart-shaped Lapin and Bing which are also big and juicy, though this year’s crop was hit by birds.

Netting is spread across the active trees to avoid bird damage.

“There are probably 50 crows that seem to live here,” Jordan jokes.

This year’s yield has been down a bit on previous seasons because a fertiliser schedule will be reinstated for next year.

What has been picked has been high quality.

“We’ve been able to sell everything we pick which is always the aim,” Jordan said.

Most cherries are sold on-site but some are distributed to nearby Volcanic Produce and Rebecca’s Café in Port Fairy.

Nets cover the orchid to keep out pesky birds.



A delicious harvest.



Local horticulturalist Jordan O’Keefe is the site manager.


Koroit Cherry Farm from the air.

The cherry trees in full bloom.