Local History Gallery

Berri Experimental Orchard

1924 Dept. of Agriculture map

1924 Dept. of Agriculture map

This post marks the eastern boundary of the original experimental orchard property. The land you see in front of you and the house on the rise is the original stone and brick home of the orchard manager.

The Berri Experimental Orchard (initially called the Berri Experimental Farm) was established in May 1911 on land 5 km north east of the Berri township near the top of Riverview Drive. It consisted of 79 ½ acres (32 ha) of irrigable land and 157 ½ acres (64 ha) of dry farming land too high for watering. The original plantings of the orchard were decided with stock trials to ascertain which varieties of plantings would be most suitable for River Settlement plantings.

During its initial six years of operation, it was administered by the Department of Irrigation and Reclamation Works (later incorporated into the Lands Department); with the Department of Agriculture managing the property from 1917 onwards.

The Orchard was instrumental in training local and interstate fruit block owners, in varieties for planting, care and maintenance of the vineyard and orchard and in pruning and diseases of plantings and crops. Over the years many field days and competitions were held on the property. Students from agricultural colleges in Adelaide did their training at the orchard.

Most of the focus of the Experimental Orchard was in developing production techniques for irrigated tree crops such as citrus, apricots, peaches, prunes, figs, almonds, apples, pears, dried vine fruits, and wine grapes, along with irrigation and drainage studies with precise daily records kept on all experimental growing.

Also grown for trials were Guayule rubber, lucerne, cotton, tobacco, date palms, sugar beet, haricot bean, castor oil, flax, hemp and various vegetables. There was also a weather station on the property and staff would keep daily records for reporting to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The orchard also experimented with heating to prevent frost with many tests carried out in the 1930s on a parts of the apricot orchard. Oil fuel was used, at a cost of 5d. or 6d per gallon, and the heaters (shaped somewhat like milk buckets) were placed so as to provide one in the centre of each, four trees. The pots were charged with fuel, and could be quickly lighted by the use of a simple “torch”, specially designed for this purpose. An “alarm thermo meter” was set to give warning by the ringing of a bell. When the temperature approached the danger point— in this instance 34 degrees—and within a few minutes all heaters were alight.” (Murray Pioneer 11 Jan 1934)

The staff of the Experimental Orchard also carried out workshops and demonstrations on various properties across the district. Other block owners would all attend and listen to the experts speak and demonstrate on looking after and pruning vineyards and orchards. These demonstrations were very useful to the many soldier settlers establishing fruit blocks in the area, most having never worked on agricultural properties before or had only basic training previously.

During WW2, the Army established a Prisoner of War Internment Camp at Loveday. Horticultural Adviser, Mr Cec Grasby was seconded from the Berri Experimental Orchard to manage this operation growing vegetables, linseed, guayule for rubber, poppies for opium, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, cotton and carrots at the camps.

A beautiful stone and brick house was the home of the Experimental Orchard manager, with smaller quarters built for the property hands and their families. There were various other buildings on the property, sheds for fruit production, stables and other structures.

Some of the staff over the years have been –

  • Mr Wescombe, first Manager
  • Mr C.G. Savage, 1917-1928
  • Frank G. Fox, Foreman from about 1919 to 1950s and longest serving member of staff
  • Mr N.S. Fotheringham, Manager 1928 – 1937
  • George Quinn, Chief Horticultural Instructor with Dept Agriculture 1930s
  • Mr A.G. Strickland, Chief Horticultural Instructor with Dept Agriculture 1930s and 1940s
  • Oliver E. ‘Son’ Halliday, Manager – 1937 until retired 1952 (previously Assistant Manager)
  • In 1939 there were seven men employed permanently along with Mr Fox John Jennings, who was Assistant Manager in 1946
  • John Steed, Field officer from 1952 – 1953 (transferred to Blackwood)
  • Ian Bond, Assistant Manager 1950s
  • Ted Rout, 1920s-1950s – orchard hand and instructor, lived with his family in the ‘Quarters’ along the river side of the property
  • Max Perkins, orchard hand and instructor, 1930s
  • Vic Teusner, orchard hand 1950s
  • John Nicolai, orchard hand 1950s (John Steed says Nicolai then Neindorf)
  • Fred Nicolai, orchard hand 1950s
  • Morris Meyer, orchard hand 1950s
  • Mel Lukic, orchard hand 1950s
  • Bill Harris, Manager after ‘Son’ Halliday left 1950s
  • Bill Basket, 1950s

Loxton Research Centre was gradually developed from 1948 onwards. Research activities at the Berri Experimental Orchard were gradually transferred across to Loxton Research Centre, and the Berri Experimental Orchard was closed in 1968 and the land was sold.

Additional Information about the Berri Experimental Orchard

Photographs of the Berri Experimental Orchard

The information and photos here are from the Berri Barmera Local History Collection and from TROVE, John Steed, Pat Muller and the Rout Family.

Picking apricots

Picking apricots


Almond blossom

Almond blossom


Berri Experimental Orchard - Block A

Block A


Girls with orange trees



Ladies cutting apricots, thatch shed in background 


Almond blossoming 


Apricots laid out for drying


Workers off to another job on the farm 


Ted Rout and Reg Hoskin, Berri Rowing Club


Cincturing a fruit tree on the orchard


Furrow irrigation of the orange block, c1929


Clearing the last of the scrub on the orchard, c1922 


Getting the horses ready to bring home from the dry block

Grapes ready to go to the winery


Washing day


Lunch during scrub clearing


Ted Rout and friends on the tennis court


Relaxing and listening to music


“Been hunting”


“Been fishing”


Boxing at the camp


Pegging out the washing

This is a temporary webpage about the Berri Experimental Orchard setup for a Rout family reunion in Berri in September 2022. The original Berri Experimental Orchard site will eventually be permanently marked with a post and QR code sign directing people to this information which will be transferred to the Berri Barmera Council website in the near future.