OUR BERRIES A THING TO RAVE ABOUT

Stanthorpe Border Post - - FRONT PAGE -

JOHN Ba­ro­nio’s father ar­rived from Italy in 1923 and cut cane in North Queens­land be­fore buy­ing land near Stan­thorpe, grow­ing fruit and vegeta­bles and pro­vid­ing the launch pad for one Queens­land’s most im­pres­sive straw­berry farms – Eastern Colour.

Jon Carmichael earned his stripes grow­ing straw­ber­ries on the Sun­shine Coast on the fam­ily-owned farm. A decade ago he be­came a pi­o­neer, tak­ing com­mer­cially grown straw­ber­ries to Stan­thorpe and turn­ing the Gran­ite Belt into Queens­land’s pri­mary sup­plier of sum­mer straw­ber­ries.

Jon em­ployed as man­agers for­mer Zim­bab­weans Ash and Bren­don Hoyle, who help pro­duce the Ash­bern Farm crops at Stan­thorpe and Sun­shine Coast.

East of Stan­thorpe, McMa­hon Broth­ers Or­ganic Farm be­gan life in 1925 af­ter Clyde McMa­hon came home from the Great War, suf­fer­ing the hor­rific im­pacts of chlo­rine and mus­tard gas at­tacks.

Clyde be­gan clear­ing land af­ter buy­ing it in the Sol­diers Set­tle­ment Scheme with wife Ellen but was too ill to han­dle much of the hard labour farm­ing needed and be­came a school­teacher.

But the farm flour­ished through four gen­er­a­tions to emerge in the year 2000 as one of a hand­ful of or­ganic straw­berry grow­ers in the state and is per­fectly poised to ex­ploit the global or­ganic trend.

They are just a sam­ple of the aris­to­crats of the straw­berry trade – the grow­ers who have wo­ven them­selves into our agrar­ian his­tory, draw­ing life out of the soil and trans­form­ing it into the eco­nomic power that is still a key driver of this state.

And if there’s one thing they agree on, it’s that straw­ber­ries can break your heart. “One good hail­storm can wipe you out,” Mr Carmichael said.

“And when plant­ing can cost more than $50,000 a hectare, that’s a big fi­nan­cial hit to take.”

Mr Ba­ro­nio says hor­ti­cul­ture is al­ways a gam­ble, but he re­calls mak­ing good money out of broc­coli in the 90s be­fore his sons, Stephen and Nathan, spear­headed the fam­ily’s move into straw­ber­ries.

The Ba­ro­nio’s have spent mil­lions of dol­lars de­vel­op­ing one of the more hi-tech straw­berry farms.

To Bren­don Hoyle, the straw­berry rep­re­sents a sec­ond chance at the farm­ing life.

Bren­don said the fu­ture of the in­dus­try was rea­son­ably well as­sured if his kids de­cided to pur­sue it.

And that’s be­cause the straw­berry, which prob­a­bly be­gan com­mer­cial life in a small gar­den in Brit­tany, France, 300 years ago, has a ded­i­cated and grow­ing global fol­low­ing.

“It’s not just the taste, but the shape, the colour and the smell that make them so spe­cial. There is just some­thing about straw­ber­ries that peo­ple love.”

There is just some­thing about straw­ber­ries that peo­ple love

— Bren­don Hoyle

PHOTO: NIGEL HAL­LETT

SWEET DEAL: Jon Carmichael, who cut his teeth in straw­berry pro­duc­tion on the Sun­shine Coast, used his agri­cul­tural skills to help kick off straw­berry pro­duc­tion in Stan­thorpe.

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