Mumble Peg Citrus is not only a catchy name, it’s steeped in history, according to owner and General Manager, Trevor Roberts senior. He is the third generation to grow citrus on his historic property at Narromine in NSW’s Great Western Plains region.
His grandparents, Samuel and Katherine Roberts, who had 15 children, purchased the original plot on the Macquarie River in 1910.
Legend has it that the property was named following an incident with a wealthy squatter who discovered his workers – boundary riders and burr cutters – were shirking work by playing a game of mumble the peg that dates back to the 17th Century.
“Mumble the peg was a game of skill played with a pocketknife and the area became known as Mumble Peg after the incident – we think it’s a name people remember when they are buying our fresh juice and table oranges,” says Trevor Sr., aged 72.
Trevor and wife Margo have four adult children: daughters Takita and Jasmin, and sons Trevor junior and Lachlan.
Their sons are involved in the family business, including running the 50-hectare orchard with 250,000 trees that yield 30 tonnes of fruit per hectare and other farming operations.
The orchard produces high-quality table oranges that are picked, processed and sorted into various sizes and grades. First-grade oranges are sold as table fruit in cartons while second-grade fruit is sold in bulk bins or made into fresh orange juice in their onsite juice processing factory.
Peel from the juice is then used to feed the Black Angus cattle and Merino sheep they run on the 5000-hectare property and other parcels of nearby farming land where they also crop wheat, canola and beans.
Trevor Sr., who recalls picking oranges and putting them in a milk crate from the age of eight, says he and his wife, Margo are very pleased that their sons – the fourth generation – are working in the business.
Trevor Jr.’s wife Maggie and Lachlan’s partner Lesley-Anne are also involved in the family business working in accounts and management.
“Trevor Jr. manages the citrus side of the business while Lachlan manages the farming and cropping – it’s a good system. Like all family businesses, it is not without challenges at times, but we welcomed the decision for them to come into the business and feel very privileged,” Trevor Sr. says.
“I am very proud of the family history and the legacy previous generations have left us – looking back over the years of how it has all fitted together and how the business has grown is very satisfying.”
The first orange tree was planted by one of Samuel Roberts’ older sons in 1923 and by 1930 the trees were producing fruit.
At that time, the oranges were picked and packed into wooden crates and each week Samuel delivered the oranges by horse and cart 20 kilometres
Mumble Peg Orange Juice was born when Trevor Sr. decided to value add to the citrus operation in 2015. “It seemed a logical progression and has paid off over the years,” he says.
The juice is now sold throughout NSW and ACT in cafes, takeaway shops and supermarkets while table oranges are exported to Japan, Canada, China, Vietnam and sold at the Sydney Flemington Markets and Brisbane Rocklea Markets.
The family business received a welcome boost last year with a $200,000 NSW Government Regional Job Creation Fund grant to upgrade facilities, increase productivity and create new jobs.
The grant will allow the Roberts family to install new equipment, including a colour vision grader and automated packer. This will help boost their capabilities to produce premium quality fruit juices and compete in international markets.
“The upgrades will improve quality assurance and allow Mumble Peg to tap into higher quality export markets, while also increasing productivity, and enabling staff to take up more supervisory roles in the business,” Trevor Sr. says.
“This project will not only upskill existing employees, but also create more than 37 jobs over the next three years, including extra packers, additions to the sales team and a grading line operator.”
Asked what sets their fresh juice apart from other brands, Trevor Sr. says it is the meticulous attention they pay to their produce and the processing system.
“We are a nil chemical and nil insecticide business. Our aim in producing the orange juice is to have a healthy, tasty product that’s as fresh and flavoursome as if you squeezed it in your own kitchen,” he says.
Narromine has the perfect climate for growing sweet juicy oranges because of the cool winters and hot summers. “It’s an ideal climate to grow citrus here with lots of sunshine and rain – the temperate climate controls disease. That’s why the citrus does so well here,” he says.
Mumble Peg is among a small number of NSW citrus growers who are also engaged in juice production.
While still considered a boutique business, it has expanded to accommodate the growing domestic and export fruit markets.
It is busy all year according to Trevor Sr. from May to October, they harvest delicious, sweet Navels including Washington Navel, Leng Navel, Late Lane and Navelena varieties. From November to April, they harvest fresh-flavoured Valencias.
“There’s never a quiet time, especially with the fresh juice market,” says Trevor Sr., who joined the family business as soon as he finished school.
Fresh orange juice is sold in 1 and 2 litres plus 500ml and 300ml. They also sell 500ml orange passionfruit drink and orange mango drink, along with 3 litre orange passionfruit drink and 300ml orange mango drink. “Growing citrus is in my blood and it’s very satisfying when you walk into a supermarket and see your fruit for sale and the juice in the refrigerators,” he says.
“Customers have a growing desire to buy products that are produced locally and are free from chemicals and pesticides.”
Trevor Sr. says it’s been a challenging few years with COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns which reduced the number of backpackers in the country, who previously made up most of the seasonal pickers.
“It’s had a huge impact and we have all had to work longer hours and rely on locals to help, as well find pickers where we can – we really don’t know when things will pick up again,’’ he says.
“Mumble Peg fresh juice has been well supported by Coles and IGA supermarkets throughout the ACT and NSW over the pandemic, but supply has been greater than demand.
“This is due to less exporting to countries struggling with COVID-19, plus less sales from the lockdown of Greater Sydney, Central Coast to Wollongong, and the current labour shortage situation, but we are hoping it will pick up.”
Trevor is hoping the next generation will also become involved as the years pass. “Our grandsons Judah, 18 months, and Ezra, 8 months are pretty young so we will have to wait a while,” he says.
As for tasting his own produce, Trevor says he’s addicted to the fresh orange juice.
“I love it and can’t drink enough – it’s got such a great taste with so much freshness and so many health qualities which are the most important things. I am very proud of our citrus and its history,” he says.
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