Fruitful solution gives us our daily berries

THE Pinata farm at Orielton, in South-East Tasmania, is doing its bit to ensure Australians have berries every day of the year. Taking advantage of Tasmania’s cool weather climate means Pinata farm is able to stretch the harvest out all year round.

The restoration of a cow paddock to a high production raspberry and strawberry farm has been well under way since 2017 – and more is planned. The company grows and harvests berries between Queensland to Tasmania and produces 15 million punnets of strawberries and eight million punnets of raspberries each year.

Since the harvest began in November, Pinata farms have packed nearly a million punnets of raspberries on their Tasmanian farm alone and about 530 thousand punnets of strawberries. Producing a huge sum of Australia’s berries means that expansion was needed to meet the constant growing demand.

Managing Director, Gavin Scurr said the demand for berries was constantly growing and there would always be a market for it.

“The bulk of our berries go to the mainland, we supply Tasmania as well but it’s a small market compared, so our future expansions are actually for the mainland because that’s where the population is,” he said.

“We’re running half developed and we will do the next half over the next three years or so. “When we first started here, we were just doing raspberries and this past summer is our first commercial crop of strawberries on the side.”

The farm is about 121ha which is sufficient to facilitate the expansion for the next three years. They are currently building another 76 polytunnels for strawberries to add to the 96 that already exist and 168 raspberry polytunnels. “The quality of the berries here are excellent because it’s better weather, it’s cooler,” Mr Scurr said.

“Berries don’t like heat so the weather here in Tassie is more what berries like. “Cooler maximums and minimums, the days are longer because it’s further south, hence the plant grows for more hours of the day because there’s more light.”

The typically dry conditions in Tasmania during summer mean the berries get a better shelf life compared to the humidity in Queensland. Mr Scurr, who was at Orielton last month, said that the first strawberry crop planted just last November had already exceeded their expectations on yield and quality.

“For the same reason as raspberries, they’ve gone well, excellent flavour, good yield, good shelf life.”

The farm has produced 130 tonnes of strawberries and with another six weeks left in the season expect to reach 150 tonnes. With the current expansion works, the focus is solely on raspberries and strawberries for now. There is potential to do blackberries in the future as it is grown in the same conditions as raspberries. Over last summer, there were about 85 to 90 people employed for harvest. When the farm is fully developed there are expected to be around 200 employees. On a typical warm day the berries are getting watered and fed up to 10-12 times a day.

Mr Scurr said that between the Tasmanian and Queensland operations, they harvest berries everyday of the year. “Global demand for berries is huge, that’s why berries are Australia’s largest valued crop,” Mr Scurr said. However, the costs of production have gone up significantly since Covid. “Fertilisers have almost doubled compared to three years ago. Labour is up 30 per cent, everything has gone up.

“Fresh fruit and vegetable are a supply and demand equation, if there’s plentiful of suppliers around, they’re cheap, if there’s not enough around they become more expensive.

“What we’re doing as growers is building scale so that the more we grow the cheaper it costs us per punnet to grow.”

Mr Scurr said the price of berries usually tended to stay stable with strawberries and raspberries priced at $3 to $4 dollars a punnet.

“People pay $5 dollars for a cup of coffee. I think to get a punnet of raspberries for $4 dollars is a bargain in my opinion,” he said.