Tunnel vision a winner

THE Dornauf family are always keen to take on new opportunities and after a long break from berry production their operation has grown to be one of the state’s biggest.

Robin Dornauf’s contribution to the industry was recognised when he was recently presented with a Fruit Grower of the Year award.

Mr Dornauf became involved with berry production in 1984 with raspberries at the family’s property at Christmas Hills.

Along with a handful of other growers in the Deloraine area, they established a commercial operation aiming to get into the fresh berry export market.

While that venture did not gain traction due to transport logistics and quality issues, Mr Dornauf continued with berry production until about 1990, when he moved into dairying.

The family set up their own dairy manufacturing business at Hillwood and were operating there when the idea of getting back into berries came about.

They started with 2ha of tunnels growing strawberries for Driscolls.

After some hurdles with picking and packaging that first year, the family went on to grow the operation.

Now, 10 years down the track, their Hillwood farm has 52ha under production and the family grow blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in addition to strawberries.

Mr Dornauf said they did not initially expect the operation to get this big.“We didn’t go in with a big business plan or anything,” he said.

“We were the first with Driscolls and we heard Costa had a plan for 50ha and Burlington about the same and at the time that seemed enormous, but now we’re doing that too and we probably intend to get bigger as well.”

Mr Dornauf said the huge demand for berries and work to expand the domestic market had fueled the industry’s growth.

“Because the market has been good, for the right product.“

“It’s not simple, but for the right product at the right time it has been very good.”

The Dornaufs are putting in an extra 12ha for production to come online in October.

He said the quick turnaround of strawberry production was a major advantage.

“With the Driscoll system you’re basically paying for them it the first year, so it’s a very good cash crop,” he said.

“You plant them in July and then your start picking in October.

”While labour is an ongoing challenge the Dornaufs have been involved with the seasonal worker program for six years.

“We’ve really championed that and put some effort into that,” Mr Dornauf said.

They have invested in on-farm worker accommodation and can have about 500 staying on farm throughout the season.

“That didn’t just happen and it has all been part of the overall planning,” he said.

He said being an approved employer required accommodation and transport so they have a fleet of buses.

“If you need labour, you can’t just say well, they should come. You need to organise how you’re going to get them and look after them,” Mr Dornauf said.

He said the family’s operation employed 50 locals, but workers from the Pacific Islands were now a crucial part of their business.

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