On fast track

BRANCHING out into a new venture is paying off for one northern Tasmanian farming family.

The Cresswell family run a mixed farming operation near Deloraine and can now add raspberry canes to the list of crops they grow.

In what is a first for the state, the Cresswells have established an outdoor long cane production area on their property.

The Cresswells’ operation is very much a family enterprise, with David and Anne Cresswell, sons Tim and Stuart and their wives Stacy and Katherine all involved.

The raspberry canes are being produced for the Dornauf family’s Hillwood Berries operation.

The Cresswells’ first canes are due to be harvested in the next couple of weeks.

Producing top quality raspberry canes requires careful management throughout the growing process.

David Cresswell said they first considered the idea of raspberry cane production a couple of years ago after being approached by the Dornauf family.

Since then, the family have established a 2ha growing area on their property.

Now they are planning a major expansion and work is getting started for 10ha of growing area for the upcoming season, including a trial of 2ha of blackberry canes.

The canes are grown in pots which are placed on weed matting in long rows.

A wire trellis system has been installed in each row to help support the canes as they grow.

Irrigation and fertiliser is provided through a drip system, which is controlled via a computer and constantly monitored.

Stacy Cresswell said the family worked quite closely with the Hillwood operation to make sure the canes are meeting the required quality standards.

“We work really closely with them so they bring out agronomists each week who walk our crop and make sure we’re growing them to their standards,” she said.

Attention to detail is critical and Mrs Cresswell said because of the hydroponic system there was very little room for error.

“If we notice something isn’t right we have to get on to it straight away because the last thing we want is the canes drying out or not getting all the nutrients they need,” she said.

While the new venture has been a learning curve for the whole family, Mr Cresswell said it was something they were all enjoying.

“There’s certainly a lot in it,” he said.

“They’re an exciting crop to grow, just because it’s new and no one here has done it before. It’s a good challenge too.”

The canes arrive at the Creswells’ farm as small plants only a few centimetres in height.

Preparation of the growing pots starts in early September when the growing medium is added.

The small canes are then planted into pots in October and placed in the growing area.

Three canes are planted in each pot and the existing growing area contains about 36,000 pots.

While the plants were potted up by hand last year, Mr Cresswell said the expansion their growing area
for the upcoming season meant they were now investing in equipment including a pot filler to speed up the process and reduce labour.

The aim is to produce canes with a certain diameter and correct node spacing, which will ultimately result in better fruit production.

Mrs Cresswell said some of the canes they were producing would go straight to the Dornauf family’s fruit operation in Queensland rather than going into cool storage first.

“For Hillwood it’s beneficial because it’s all-year fruiting and they also don’t have to put the canes into cool storage either,” she said.

During the peak growing season Mrs Cresswell said the canes could grow 15cm to 20cm a week.

As well as carefully monitoring the crop nutrition, Mr Cresswell said they also had to manage insect pests in the crops if needed.

However, he said the position being surrounded by farmland and other crops meant they already had a good number of beneficial insects within the crop, which helps to control pests.

Before harvest the canes will be debranched and graded to ensure they meet the required specifications.

The tops of the canes will then be trimmed and then the pots and plants will be ready for transport.

Mr Cresswell said they were unsure how long harvest would take because it is their first growing season.

A specially built shed contains the operation’s mixing tanks for fertigation as well as computer monitoring systems.

Once the current crop has been harvested the weed matting will be cleaned and irrigation systems will undergo maintenance before the next pots and plants are installed in the spring.