Family’s fruitful move pays off

JUST to the north of Launceston sits a bustling berry orchard thriving through the culmination of passion and experience that spans generations.

It is this combination that has been driving them to great things through some uniquely challenging seasons. Hillwood Berries is run by the Dornaufs, a family that has been agriculturally entangled for decades.

While their farming story in the region starts back in the 1960s, when Ian Dornauf established his dairy, it was his son, Robin, who was taken by the allure of berry growing, first planting the raspberry canes that grew into the Christmas Hill Raspberry Farm in 1985. A venture back into dairy industry followed where they established and developed Meander Valley Dairy, now one of Tasmania’s most recognisable dairy producers, but it was the move to a new site for the dairy that brought the berries back in to the Dornaufs’ life.

In 2010 they moved their operation into an existing dairy in Hillwood, where an opportunity presented itself to Robin and son Simon to develop the 40ha of land the dairy sat on. What started as a 2ha strawberry crop in 2011 has since developed in to a 52ha site with blueberries, blackberries and a return of the prodigal raspberry, as well as the return of Robin’s other son, Marcus. Between them, they’ve established Hillwood Berries as a modern, forward-thinking facility utilising extensive tunnel and hydroponics systems to supply to consumers across Australia.

“We’ve been doing this for over a decade now. This is our eleventh season of growing at Hillwood, and we’ve built up significantly from when we started in 2010,” said Simon Dornauf, who now sits as Farm Manager.

The berries are exported domestically through Driscoll’s, with 95-98 per cent of the crop making its way to mainland Australia. Hillwood Berries is one of the many beneficiaries of Tasmania’s rapidly expanding irrigation schemes. The planned 24,500 megalitres coming from the Tamar Water Scheme is a boon to the growers in the region, including Hillwood.

“We like the Tamar region. We don’t get the hot summers or the cold winters, so it perfectly lends itself to growing berries,” Mr Dornauf said. “The irrigation scheme gives us opportunity to expand, but it gives us water security for this site and for the region. “If we decide one day, it will give us access to expand in the region. Knowing there is a secure water source gives us a lot more opportunities.”

Future-proofing irrigation isn’t the only innovative scheme being utilised at Hillwood. The orchard is also making good use of the Tasmanian Government’s Seasonal Worker Program to alleviate some big pressures caused by Covid and worker availability over the past few years.

“We’re seeing some of the countries our workers are from still not being open to their workers returning, so we’ve essentially had to keep finding work for them when we don’t have any to give and then they come back to us. We’ve got a fatigued workforce. “It’s been difficult to manage workers over the last two years, first with seasonal worker shortages, then with the borders opening and Covid affecting our workforce. It’s been a different sort of challenge to have to face.