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TAS Country : July 2010
16 Friday, July On Farm STRAWBERRY FIELDS: Some of the many rows of fruit at the Jennings' farm. Family straw land THIS Jennifer Crawley Tasmanias's biggest strawberry grower prefers to hide his light under a bushel but is proud all the same of what he and his sons are producing. PROUD: The Jennings are passionate about their business. STRAWBERRY man David Jennings has lived and breathed strawberries for 25 years. His latest roadside plot outside Cygnet has row after row of newly planted strawberries in black plastic- covered slopes that stretch to the horizon, and often stops motorists in their tracks. What they are looking at is the largest strawberry patch in Tasmania -- 1.2 million of them. Trading under the name of D. M. Jennings & Sons, David and his two sons grow hundreds of thousands of strawberries in plots hidden from public view in the hills around Cygnet. Their packing shed is on Slab Rd, well away from the main road, and that is how David Jennings likes it. The quiet red-headed farmer doesn't think it is a big deal that he is Tasmania's largest strawberry producer. He may not be one for publicity, but he is a hard worker. The Jennings have planted 600,000 strawberries in the past five weeks. Their latest plot is an old apple orchard bought from a local farmer. ''She was all apples at Christmas,'' Mr Jennings said. The men have been hard at it, knocking down the trees, bed forming, fumigating every row, and laying dripper lines under the rows. They have laid between up to 4000m of irrigation lines under 600,000m of plastic to fertigate and drip irrigate the plants. The Jennings work together. Brothers Todd, 38, and Brodie, 24, manage the farm, while David oversees sales, marketing and transport. ''It's a good blend of skills,'' David said. ''Todd left school at 16 and started managing small groups of people on the farm straight away, he is a big part of the farm. ''Brodie is a motocross champion who has worked on and off on the farm from a young age. ''He works full-time on the farm now and has had a big input. ''It's good to have younger eyes.'' The Jennings source their plant varieties from Driscolls Strawberries in California and market their fruit through the Costa Group in Melbourne. Jennings strawberries are sold in Woolworths stores throughout Tasmania, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and in A-1, Fresh and Foodstore supermarkets. David said he has a good relationship with Woolworths and he is offered some degree of protection from Chinese and American imports because of the fruit's perishability. ''Woolworths is a big part of our business,'' Mr Jennings said. The Jennings employ 160 backpackers in peak season and 35 packers. All the strawberries are hand- planted and hand-picked. ''It's pretty full-on in the peak season, the backpackers love it,'' David said. New strawberry varieties are tested on the Jennings' farms in 30,000 to 40,000 trial plots. If a variety shows promise, they are grown for one or two years. ''We are always aiming for better varieties to keep people buying them, because if people don't like it they don't come back,'' David said. The Jennings farms are all irrigated with dam water. Strawberries are pre-cooled within an hour of being picked, packed, transported in a refrigerated truck and are on supermarket shelves in Melbourne the next morning. Backpackers have to be taught how to pick when they arrive at the farm. ''You need very gentle hands, you just give a gentle twist,'' David said.
August 5th 2010