In­side a fam­ily farm grow­ing pineapples

Gen­er­a­tions of pineap­ple farm­ing

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - GE­ORDI OF­FORD Ge­ordi.of­ford@ru­ral­

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

Two mil­lion pineapples are planted on the farm each year, with about three mil­lion har­vested.

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.

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