Prime Mover Magazine

A better future

A better future

Tech savvy agricultural company, Ceravolo Orchards, with its exacting transport task, asks a lot of its trucks. As the destination for the first S-series cab in Scania’s New Truck Generation in Australia it has wasted no time discovering the state of the art capabilities of the powerful S 650 V8.

In little over a decade, between the years 1950 and 1961, nearly 30,000 Italian immigrants came by ship to South Australia.

Antonio Ceravolo Snr was one of them.

When he arrived from Calabria, Italy in 1950, he was carrying only a scuffed wooden suitcase, in which contained all of his worldly possessions.

Two years later his wife and five children followed. In the interim of those post-war years, separated from his family, he worked, driven by the promise of a better future.

Another five children would be born in Australia. By 1956, as broadcast television entered the country, eldest boy Ralph in partnership with his father, had purchased a homestead in the Mount Lofty Ranges north of Adelaide where the family established a farm growing vegetables in Ashton.

The hilly, terrain was not dissimilar to the undulating landscape Ralph’s ancestors had worked for generations on the boot shaped peninsula of southwest Italy.

The property, affectionately known as ‘goat’s country’, is home to Ceravolo Orchards and its juice brand Ashton Valley Fresh. Ralph’s son Tony now runs the family business with his wife Sandra and his brother Joe and sister-in-law Anna, along with three of their children, Joyce, Raffael and Joseph.

The focus of the operation has changed since Tony quit school at 16 to help his father, whose back, after years of crippling work starting every day at sunup, began to show signs of strain.

Tony, however, was more drawn to fruit and has since developed that side of the business into its major revenue stream, harvesting apples, cherries, nectarines, strawberries and pears.

According to Tony, conditions in the ranges are ideal for growing fruit where rainfall is plentiful and the chill hours, a period at night where the temperature drops below eight degrees, is most agreeable.

“It’s very good for helping buds blossom,” he says. “It’s the near perfect climate for nurturing fruit trees.”

Additional properties, making for eight in total over 300 hectares, have since been purchased in the surrounding areas.

Most are flatter, making it easier to plant crops and manoeuvre tractors.

At Myponga they maintain a strawberry farm, with cultivated orchards on other sites in Woodside, Nairne and Echunga.

Now boasting a packing shed, a wholesale business and a juice plant, it’s little wonder Ceravolo Orchards has flourished into one of the biggest fruit companies in South Australia.

The road transport fleet, not surprisingly, has grown to reflect these recent expansions in the businesses.

Ceravolo Orchards bought its first Scania truck – an 113M 310hp – in 1998. A few years later it added extra power with an R 500 V8, which Tony says is still going strong.

The fleet of five Scanias cart fruit into the packing shed. From there they proceed to the wholesale market and on to the distribution centre for its major customers, supermarket chain Coles.

Insofar as the majority of the transport job is confined to local distribution, Ceravolo Orchards also delivers into Melbourne and Orange, NSW.

Ashton is a centralised location for accessing its farms, which are mostly within a half hour radius.

The roads are winding and extend across sprawling hills that bring with it certain challenges the Scania S 650, with the roomy ergonomics of the cab, is particularly suited.

“The cabover is a lot better for the roads we are traveling on,” says Tony.

“We’re at the mercy of our environment which is hilly and quite steep in parts. The ergonomics of the S 650 are designed to let you sit a little more forward and closer to the window. Looking out you can see everything. You wouldn’t think it would make much difference but it’s amazing how much more you can see.”

Given the topography of the circuitous roads to and from home base hauling B-doubles is not an option even though the S 650, according to Tony, can pull another trailer without the driver knowing the difference.

“Apples are very heavy so we work right on our limits of 24 and 25 tonnes all the time,” he says. “It’s not so much the mileage we do but how we are forced to do it with return journeys daily through the hills on a single trailer. It’s tough going.”

The Scania Retarder and exhaust brake help with the steady descending of grades at maximum capacity. Tony lauds the gear changes on the new model, calling it quick, responsive and very intelligent.

“No matter the speed you’re doing in traffic the adaptive cruise of the new Scania brakes automatically when a car appears in front before you can even get your foot on the pedal,” he says. “The reaction time of the truck is incredible. It’s close to a passenger car.”

In addition to the new S 650, Ceravolo Orchards runs two new 730s, a 580 and the aforementioned 500.

Tony flew to Sydney last year for the Scania launch event, where he ordered the new prime mover in cherry red, which is now uniform across the entire fleet.

“Tony loves his Scanias,” says Operations Manager Sandra Ceravolo. “He talks to people with trucks and tells them ‘buy a Scania you’ll never go back.
He’s very much a forward thinker and he loves the way Scania is a forward moving company, always a market leader with an eye on the future.”

Recognised in November with the Leader Award at the 2018 South Australia Food Industry Awards, Tony according to his wife, prides himself on innovation, knowing the latest technologies and finding shrewd business solutions through the best new equipment.

At its Ashton Valley Fresh site the company operates on a zero waste policy. The skins of the apples, which are used for juicing, are gathered up into a tipper and used as cow feed.

“Basically, nothing is wasted. We’re looking at palletising when there’s another drought for farmers because it’s a high nutrient product, high in fibre,” Sandra says. “The challenge is it needs to be produced locally. It ends up as zero waste because there’s so many people affected by the drought.”

By palletising the pulp, according to Sandra, the product can be stored longer for future reserves. The tipper work, again, has been assigned to a Scania commercial vehicle.

“We originally had another brand of truck and we said never again,” Sandra says. “It had no comfort. The truck was only on short stints but even then it was unpleasant.”

It’s one of a multitude of projects the company is currently working on.

After hailstorms damaged widespread crops across the region in 2017, Ceravolo Orchards installed an Aseptic-filler at its juice factory, following two years of research.

It will help process crushed juice of damaged fruit for local growers to stem oversupply in the market.

“They weren’t going to get any money for it if they sent it anywhere else,” Sandra says. “We basically gave the local growers an income from it because it was an agreed price and the price would be fixed. If they chose to go elsewhere they would get a lot less money for it. It was to avoid flooding the market and decreasing the price astronomically a bin.”

Sandra says Tony is committed to bettering his business and improving the skills of those around him.

“He’s a natural leader and he values engaging with the next generation. He wants to hear their ideas and makes them aware their contribution is important,” she says.

“Tony is a very forward thinker and he’s always conceiving new approaches to improve business, how to make our lives simpler and always investing in new projects and equipment to stay ahead of the curve.”

Apple packing machines sort and grade produce to limit external defects and dullness of colour. It’s all programmed.

Ceravolo Orchards produce most varieties including staples such as Granny Smith, Pink Ladies, Royal Galas, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and unique varieties such as the Kanzi – an apple that does not discolour after it is cut open, and an Australian developed apple, the Bravo, which has a deep cherry red colour.

A machine called Inspectra, will take around 800 photos of each apple during the sorting process. Based on percentages of marking and colour, the machine, which acts as an internal vision sorter, removes flawed apples that are designated for the juicing plant.

“The Inspectra can tell you internally if there’s discolouration in the apple, the sugar level and the firmness of the apple with a pressure test,” she says.

“That’s how far ahead the technology has moved. People have no idea how advanced the fruit and veg industries have become.”

For cherries, a new punnet machine has also been installed.

As it automatically seals the fruit it provides an advantage for health, safety and efficiency as customers, Sandra says, are happier purchasing a punnet for convenience over cherries that have been handled by someone else. Ceravolo Orchards has upgraded another sorting machine similar to the Inspectra, which determines the softness and cracks of a cherry.

In collaboration with one of their suppliers, Hills Cider Company, the two companies have built a cellar door in which people can experience the farm to final product on location.

Miss Match Brewing Co. will handle craft beer and Adelaide Hills Distillery the spirits.

“We’ve diversified in a number of ways. We believe we have to in this day and age. What you do you’ve got to do well but you can’t just do one thing,” Sandra says. “You need to be able to have multiple avenues so that if something doesn’t go right you need another avenue to sell your product.”

These prudent investments in technology are crucial to empowering the quality control.

For Ceravolo Orchards, that’s even more reason to insure the produce arrives in the same condition it was picked. The Scania S 650 provides Tony with confidence his fruit won’t get damaged in transit.

“I believe the Scania gives you a superior ride. It’s very soft on the food in back,” he says. “We’ve never had anything move on these trucks. All our vehicles are on airbags.”

Operation of the truck requires scarce use of the brakes according to Tony even at traffic lights where the S 650 virtually stops itself helping to save on fuel and maintenance.

As a farming operation, Ceravolo Orchards uses excavators and spray units which need to be transported often.

“Even for those jobs these trucks are brilliant. You’re in and out of the truck all the time and the ease of access is very good.”

The S 650 delivered to Tony was the first S-cab to arrive in Australia.

The cabin has a 15-tonne load rating while he interior has been decked out per Tony’s request. He didn’t mind waiting for the leather interior with red stitching and a red rim around it.

All controls, including lights, mirrors and windows are contained on the arm piece to maximise comfort.

Tony says the Scania prime movers react to considerate driving, with slow take offs and gentle braking likely to ensure they last well beyond a traditional service life. He says his drivers respect the Scania vehicles because they are such a lovely truck to drive.

“I’ve got a couple of boys who drive the S 650 and when they get in it they never want to get out of it,” Tony says. “All of my drivers love Scanias. They won’t let me buy anything else.”

Last year Sandra and Tony celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

They have five children. Joyce and Joseph work at the juice plant and Ralph Jnr, who works at the wholesale market. Staff numbers fluctuate between 50 and 150 depending on the season.

For Sandra, joining the Ceravolo clan, from Adelaide where she met Tony, was tantamount to joining the business.

Back in 1988 when she moved to the hills the first fruit saplings planted by Antonio and Ralph Ceravolo had long matured and were already a major part of the business under husband Tony’s guidance.

Sandra, not one for cold climates having grown up in the city, says she was happy to heave heavy cabbages and cauliflower but the marriage, and its chances of survival, hinged on broccoli.

More to the point her resistance in picking the leafy vegetable at first light in the freezing cold given it deteriorates rapidly in the heat of the day. She laughs about her line in the sand moment.

“I’m fortunate the fruit growing became the main focus of the business,” she says. “There’s so much going on it’s hard to keep up.”

The Scania can often be heard echoing in the sun kissed green hills during summer.

But it’s not the rumble of the V8 engine that announces its presence at Ashton.

Tony blasts the air horn, an unsung safety feature of the S 650, scattering rainbow lorikeets that come to graze at leisure while suspended from the net covered cherry trees.

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