Thank heat for red treat
Warm weather and rain late last month brought on an early harvest at one of Tasmania’s biggest raspberry producers. Roger Hanson reports
A record warm November and good recent rainfall have allowed a raspberry farm in the state’s South to be already harvesting fruit. Robyn Britton has plenty of fresh berries to sell from Westerway Raspberry Farm and even the deluge last weekend is not holding back the farm’s early harvesting season.
THE Clark family of Westerway Raspberry Farm knows only too well the value of timing when it comes to harvest.
However, the recent combination of warm weather and a burst of rain late last month caught the experienced growers by surprise, bringing on an early start to the season.
The wet weather did not suit everyone, but for Richard Clark, who runs his family’s Westerway Raspberry Farm in the upper Derwent Valley, it was a case of singing and dancing in the rain.
“Two or three days of rain with some breeze is perfect for the farm and the fruit. Just at the moment it’s perfect because it really makes the fruit juicy,” Mr Clark said.
“I certainly didn’t expect to have red fruit available on the first of December.”
Westerway is one of Tasmania’s biggest berry producers. It grows more than 200 tonnes of fruit a year – about 120 tonnes of raspberries, 70 tonnes of blackcurrants and 30 tonnes of various other berries.
At the peak of the harvesting season the operation employs 150 seasonal staff.
“We had a slow start to the season with September and October being quite cold and it looked like the season could be a bit late. Last year it was super late,” Mr Clark said.
“So this season is coming on a bit earlier than expected.”
When Tasmanian Country visited Mr Clark was buzzing with excitement taking delivery of his first batch of compostable containers made from sugarcane pulp.
“I reckon we are the first raspberry growers in Australia to offer compostable containers,” he said.
“Our raspberries are big, red and juicy so the containers need to be able to hold the juice, and these new units can do that.”
Mr Clark will use the bigger containers for strawberries.
“It will be a bit of a transition for raspberries because of the new sizing. This year we are trying to recycling everything on the farm.”
The Westerway farm has been supplying blackcurrants for Cascade’s juices for two decades. It also supplies other seasonal fruits to the juice, cordial, ice-cream and jam markets.
To meet growing demand the Westerway Raspberry Farm produces about 50,000 packs of quick-frozen raspberries and other berries.
“Frozen berries are going wonderfully well because consumers are wary of imported berries after the health scare with Chinese imports,” Mr Clark said.
“The cryogenic freezer tunnel produces individually quick frozen berries that retain the taste, flavour and texture of a fresh berry.”
The Clarks have three hi-tech overthe-row Littau harvesters made in the United States.
The over-the-row harvester straddles a berry bush to harvest its fruit with the driver and work crew on the top of the machine. It shakes the bush so only the ripe fruit falls on to the catcher plates and into a series of cups.
“They have helped lower costs of processing berries,” Mr Clark said.
Some of the raspberries are grown in Haygrove tunnels to protect the berries from rain and give frost protection.
“The tunnels protect the fruit and give us better yields,” Mr Clark said.
–A new innovation at Westerway is growing strawberries on “tables”, where they are planted directly into slashes made in a bag of potting medium and grown hydroponically.
This system means the plants ar higher up from the slugs and snails that attack them.
“Other benefits include significant reduction in picking costs because the
Two or three days of rain with some breeze is perfect for the farm and the fruit RICHARD CLARK
picker is standing up and there is less wastage because fruit is not lost on the ground,” Mr Clark said.
“Quality is better because we can put nutrients into the plants that need it rather than waste excess nutrients.”
Mr Clark said the system also allowed growers better disease control leading to higher yields.
Helping manage the strawberry tables was University of Tasmania agricultural science student Oliver Gales, who has finished his second year of studies.
“This gives me good summer experience and to learn about the berry industry,” Mr Gales said.
Another farm worker Miluse Walsh is a former social worker from the Czech Republic. She found not only a passion for berry farming at Westerway but also met her husband, John, when she came to the farm two years ago. The couple now live at nearby Ellendale.
“Coming here was like a mental restart for me. I love it here and working on the farm every day is different,” Mrs Walsh said.