Inside a family farm growing pineapples
Generations of pineapple farming
BROTHERS Jake and Ryan Brooks have been working on the family pineapple farm their whole lives.
“We were pretty much born into it,” Jake said.
“As kids we used to be able to sit on the side guard of the tractor during a harvest.
“You always thought you were great when you could drive the tractor on your own at eight or nine years old.”
The farm at Bungundarra, northeast of Rockhampton, has been in the family for six decades and produces about three million pineapples a year.
“We also grow about two hectares of watermelons a year, but with the amount we harvest and strict planting windows, we just stick to the pineapples,” Jake said.
A day of work for the Brooks brothers and their staff begins early in the morning.
“I don’t really see Ryan a lot during the day because we both do different stuff,” Jake said.
“We see each other in the morning and we’ll run into each other a couple of times during the day after that.
“Then in the afternoon we’ll sit down and have a beer together.”
Jake said the spiky fruit was “an extensive crop”.
“Weather is the biggest factor we face,” he said.
“It’s pretty dry at the moment, we’re foliage spraying them a lot more because we’re trying to keep the nutrients up with them so when it does rain they can use them quicker.
“That’s just how it goes. It’s either too dry or too wet.
“There’s always something going on, whether it’s spraying, harvesting, ground preparation or planting.”
Like many other producers around the country, Jake is hoping for a bit of rainfall soon.
“Ideally we’d like to get between 25 and 50mm of rain on them a month,” he said.
“The pineapples do suit the drier weather a bit better but if you got 25mm on them six weeks before harvest it’s perfect, it fattens them up.
“If they get too wet you start to worry about phytophthora, a disease in the roots.”
During the year the Brooks and Sons farm has eight full-time staff working and backpackers or labour hire are employed during the big harvests.
“When we harvest we use a tractor that has five people walking behind it along the boom,” he said.
“The pineapple is picked and the tops are cut off, then they’re put in a cup and it goes along the conveyor and they’re put into the crate on the back of the truck.
“Having those extra staff allows us to keep up and keep things ticking over.
“In the summer months we work through 40-degree days and have the Zooper Doopers and cold water in eskies ready for when we want to take a 10-minute break.”
The top of the fruit is then used to replant the next round of sweet pines.
“The plant will be in the ground for three years and then it’ll be ploughed and ready for the next lot,” he said.
From the field the pineapples go to one of three places.
“The pineapples we harvest for Tropical Pines go into big plastic crates and once they are there they do what they want to do with them,” he said.
“We also send fruit down to the Golden Circle cannery in Brisbane, we put them into crates made out of wood and metal and they have a truck that comes to pick them up and take them.
“Then once they’re at the factory they’re made into poppers, juices or put in a tin.
“We also deliver some stuff locally to the local Woolworths and other smaller fruit and vegetable shops.”
He said the demand for pineapples was bigger in the warmer months.
“In the winter months they
aren’t as popular because people are looking to eat warm vegies instead of fruit salad,” he said.
Throughout his career as a grower Jake said he had faced his challenges, but the hardest thing was Tropical Cyclone Marcia.
“Our sheds were flattened but the machinery was OK. I think we only had one cracked mirror and a couple of dents,” he said.
“We live just down the road and we physically couldn’t get to the farm for a few days because there was debris over the road.”
Jake said they lost a full crop that was ready to be harvested the week following the weather event.
“Because it was so hot in the days after our fruit was burnt. So much so the juice was just spurting out of them and the flowers were burnt too,” he said.
“The wind also really knocked them around and pushed them over, it was quite devastating to see.”
After three years, the crop has finally got back on track.
“We ploughed and planted the final cyclone damaged patch two weeks ago,” he said.
“There’s still a few things we’re fixing here and there but we’ve just got to push on.”
Jake said they were now looking to the future.
“We might look at expanding further. If a block becomes available we’ll definitely think about it,” he said.
Jake said his favourite way to enjoy pineapple was on a burger or pizza. He shared some tips on choosing the perfect pineapple.
“You can get pineapples that are fine on the inside even if they do look a bit green.
“You don’t want to get a fruit that looks translucent on the inside, it’s got quite a winey smell and it’s not very nice.”
The forklift is used to move the crates of pineapples.
GOLDEN PRODUCE: Jake Brooks has fond memories of growing up on the family farm.
Pineapple on the boom after being harvested.
Pineapples ready to be picked up by Golden Circle.
The farm lost a ready-to-harvest crop during Cyclone Marcia.
Pineapples growing on the farm near the coast.
The farm has eight full-time staff and hires others for harvest.
FAMILY-RUN: Jake Brooks (pictured) and his brother Ryan run Brooks and Sons pineapple farm in Bungundarra near Yeppoon.
Two million pineapples are planted on the farm each year, with about three million harvested.