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TAS Country : February 3rd 2011
12 Friday, Febru Farm Feature Nine Mile THIS LAND with Jennifer Crawley THE biggest blueberry planting ever attempted in Tasmania has gone quietly ahead on a North-West Coast property. An astounding 140,000 blueberry bushes have been planted in 50ha on a berry farm called Nine Mile owned by the Costa Groups Berry Exchange. The Sulphur Creek property and its thousands of fledging plants are under the watchful eye of Tasmanian Rory Dow. Rory and his wife Anita are locals. Rory, 34, grew up in Ridgely and has a degree in agriculture science from the University of Tasmania. Anita Dow grew up in Burnie and is deputy mayor of the city. ''This farm is a great thing for Tassie and a great thing for the North-West Coast,'' Rory said. ''Its going to be great for the local economy, the take-away shops, the newsagent, the post office, everything.'' The first commercial picking will take place next year in January, February and March. Rory estimates the 100 pickers needed will build to 400 or 500 pickers once more hectares come into fruit, and all that money will be ploughed back into the community. ''I backpacked for a year after I finished university,'' he said. ''As a backpacker you don't save your money that you earn, you spend it at the pub, on lunch, on clothes, it all just gets recycled back into the community.'' Varieties never grown in Australia before have been planted at Nine Mile. A small amount of blueberries have been picked this year to establish timing of the varieties. There are five local people employed but that number is set to double with the erection of netting and permanent windbreaks on the hilltop farm. Six varieties will spread the season across the year on Nine Mile. Water for the farm comes out of the Sulphur Creek and a large dam that has just been emptied to allow for expansion. A new dam wall will increase the water licence from 85ML to 180ML. ''It will give us surety for all these plants,'' Rory said. The plants require three to 3.5 megalitres per hectare. The blueberries do not need a frost but a period of chilling or a chill unit of between 0C and 5C or 7C.They are northern hemisphere varieties and can adapt to very cold climes. The farm has been struggling to get enough sawdust and chipper fines for mulching, Rory said. ''We need thousands of cubic metres,'' he said. The closure of Gunns chip mill at Hampshire has made chips hard to come by, but they have been able to get chips from the Gunns Massey- Green mill. Trees around the extended dam were chipped through a mobile chipper belonging to Les Walkden and provided much-needed mulch for the plants. The blueberries will be sold in supermarkets throughout Australia and will be called Driscolls Blueberries. They will be identified as Nine Mile Berries grown in Tasmania and exported to Japan, UK and Europe. It has been a very big 12 months for the Costa Group's Berry Exchange in Tasmania, and continues to get bigger. Their raspberry farm at Dunorlan near Deloriane is in the middle of a major expansion that has trebled the ground planted to raspberries to 18ha. ''Its not the biggest raspberry farm in Tasmania but it could be the biggest hand-picked raspberry farm producing for the first-grade fresh market,'' manager Cameron Folder said. Cameron is another UTAS agriculture science graduate. He is from Hobart and his wife from Deloraine. Cameron, 32, has managed the farm for two years. ''We've just gone for an expanded planting last winter of another 6.5ha, which is under polyhouses,'' Cameron said. ''The Spanish tunnel design is open-ended and has open sides. They look pretty impressive.'' The main benefit of the tunnels is protection from rain in harvest time, Cameron said. ''We got the big rain but because we only had half a hectare under tunnels we were affected because most of the stuff we were picking was outside,'' he said. All of the autumn crop is under tunnels and is yet to be picked. There have been 120 pickers working on the farm over the summer season. ''It was a late season but a reasonable season,'' Cameron said. ''The new plantings that we planted in the winter are coming on for their first harvest in the next couple of weeks, we're quite excited about that, there are new varieties that haven't been grown in Tasmania before and only grown in limited amounts on the mainland.'' The company has invested in more infrastructure, including the tunnels, because of their confidence in the new varieties, Cameron said. The Dunlorlan climate is good for raspberries because of its cool winters and fairly mild summers and it's not too windy, he said. The farm employs 10 local people full-time and plants Driscoll genetics varieties. The raspberries are sold in Tasmanian, Sydney and Melbourne supermarkets. The farm once grew raspberry canes, which went to the Coffs Harbour Berry Exchange farm to plant and produce out-of-season crops. ''We're not doing that any more, we've changed, we've increased our fruit production,'' Cameron said. Pickers pick and pack the berries in the field so they are handled as little as possible. Pickers had Christmas Day off but went back picking on Boxing Day. The pickers, many of them Korean and Taiwanese, live off site in Deloraine. All pickers are taught quality standards. ''You don't pull raspberries, you don't twist them, you pluck them, leaving the core or centre,'' Cameron said. The raspberry farm expects to more than double production with the new improved shelf-life of the varieties. ''We are expecting great things, and we are really looking forward to them coming on,'' Cameron said. ''We hope to produce something that's going look better in the punnet and entice people to come back and keep buying them because they look better.'' Blackberries are another fruit grown on the farm, with 1.5ha planted. ''We are trying to get that taste of battery acid out of the blackberry,'' Cameron said. ''The challenge is when to pick them. ''If you pick them too ripe there not desirable by the supermarket, they're bleeding and the juice is coming out of them but if you don't pick them ripe enough they taste pretty horrible.'' Most of the fresh blackberries on Tasmanian supermarkets shelves are from the Dunorlan farm. Water for the farm comes out of the Rubicon River and a farm dam and plants are watered by drip irrigation, Berry Exchanges manager Peter McPherson said the company has grown berries for 35 years on the mainland. It is the biggest blueberry and raspberry grower in Australia, Mr McPherson said. ''There has been very strong growth globally and in Australia in berries,'' he said. He said blueberries were enjoying a 20 to 25 per cent increase annually because of their ''super'' food status. ''We have invested substantially in berries in Tasmania because it's got possibly the best climate for growing berries in Australia, especially for later-season varieties.'' Mr McPherson said the company used Tasmania's pest-free status to export berries throughout the world. ''We want to treble the national sales of raspberries within three years,'' he said.
January 27th 2011
February 10th 2011