OUR BERRIES A THING TO RAVE ABOUT
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
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.