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

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS - Pic­ture: MATT THOMP­SON

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.

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