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TAS Country : December 23rd 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010 Tasmanian Country 3 News Graziers singing in rain KAROLIN MacGREGOR THE recent wet weather may have caused headaches for cropping farmers and orchardists but Tasmania's graz- iers and dairy farmers are smiling after the best pasture growing season for years. While harvesting silage and hay is proving challenging, many beef, sheep and dairy farmers are struggling to keep up with the amount of pasture growth seen so far this summer. Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association dairy council chairman Andrew Lester said most dairy pro- ducers in Northern Tasmania had not even had to turn on their irrigators so far this season. ''I can't remember a season like this in the last 20 years at least,''he said. ''In fact, we're having trouble keeping up with grass at the moment.'' Surprisingly a drop in production is something many dairy farmers are struggling with at the moment. Mr Lester said because of the ex- tremely fast pasture growth at present, many producers were finding it difficult to keep their pastures at the correct quality for optimum production. ''There's plenty of grass, but the quality isn't probably as good as we'd like,''he said. An upside to the season however is lower production costs. ''Irrigation is a large part of the costs for most producers, especially with power prices at the moment,'' Mr Lester said. The Weather Bureau's latest seasonal outlook for January to March shows much of Tasmania has between 50 and 55 per cent chance of exceeding average rainfall. The news is not good for flood ravaged areas interstate where the south eastern parts of New South Wales and Queensland as well as western regions of Western Australia have between 60 and 70 per cent chance of above average falls during the next three months. Cooler than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific were causing La Nina weather patterns that were ex- pected to continue for the first quarter of 2011. The bureau is also predicting a 60 per cent chance of exceeding average maxi- mum day time and night time tempera- tures for the next three months in Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia as well as some parts of Queensland and the Northern Terri- tory. SUCCULENT: Craig Morris with the fruits of his labour at his Turners Beach Berry Patch. Pictures: KAROLIN MacGREGOR SOFT HANDS: It's all go in the packing shed. 'Rain all the time makes it quite difficult because the fruit just starts rotting so we have to go along and pick it all out.' Taste top of berry important priorities KAROLIN MacGREGOR CRAIG Morris says taste should be the number one priority when growing top quality strawberries. Mr Morris is one of a handful of commercial strawberry growers in the state and started up his business Turners Beach Berry Patch about six years ago. After growing up on a farm Mr Morris said he had always had a strong interest in agriculture, but getting into the strawberry production game had been a challenge at times. ''It was a learning curve, and a pretty steep one at times,'' he said. ''We made a lot mistakes, but we've learnt a lot as well and I think that's just all part of it.'' As well as the commercial strawberry production area, which covers about 3.2ha, the business also includes a 2ha pick your own section. Each year thousands of people visit The Berry Patch to pick their own strawberries and raspberries. Mr Morris is also one of the few growers in Tasmanian to produce the delicious Tayberries which are a cross between raspberries and blackberries and were originally bred in Scotland in the 1960s. Most of the growing area at the berry patch is fairly poor soil, but Mr Morris said they got around this by using a raised bed system which means the plants are grown in a rich compost based soil under plastic. Fertigation is used to feed the plants and supply moisture. The plants normally last about two seasons and re-planting is done in summer and winter. Mr Morris said unfortunately the wet conditions during the past couple of months had been difficult. ''It's actually not a very good season so far,'' he said. ''Rain all the time makes it quite difficult because the fruit just starts rotting so we have to go along and pick it all out.'' Picking at the Berry Patch kicked off in October and continues until May. All the fruit is cooled, graded and packed in a specially designed shed on the property. Strawberries grown at the patch are supplied to the Tasmanian market through independent retailers and fruit and vegetable shops. A member of the Strawberries Australia board Mr Morris, along with a southern Tasmanian grower, conducts trials at his property each year to test different varieties and find out which are best suited to Tasmania. Mr Morris said unlike large mainland producers who preferred varieties with good shelf life because of the amount of shipping involved, he chose the best tasting varieties. ''We're swimming against the tide a bit because we're not big enough for plant breeders to deal with and we want varieties that are different to what they generally use on the mainland,'' he said. He said by choosing varieties that produced flavoursome strawberries, he hoped people would enjoy eating them and ultimately consumption would increase. ''It is very difficult to tell how much damage has been done to our industry by people buying tasteless and hard fruit that is just poor quality or has been poorly picked,'' he said. Picking time is another crucial factor to make sure customers enjoy their strawberries. Morris said strawberries at the berry patch were not picked until they were ripe, which while reducing shelf life slightly, improved the strawberries' flavour. Ideally located next to the Bass Highway at Turners Beach, a small on-farm shop is used for the pick your own section and to sell strawberries to the public. Some of the fruit is made into jam or the very popular ice cream. Mr Morris said up to 24 people could be working at the berry patch. Plans for an on farm cafe are also in the pipeline, but Mr Morris said they intended to keep things fairly simple. To find out more go to theberrypatch.com.au
December 16th 2010
January 6th 2011