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Southern growers dodge the heartbreak

SWEET HARVEST: Rachel Erbacher shows off some pineapples as the local season kicks off.
SWEET HARVEST: Rachel Erbacher shows off some pineapples as the local season kicks off. Patrick Woods

SOUTHERN pineapple farmers should be spared the heartbreak of growers in the tropics, as tonnes of the fruit deemed worthless rot in piles in the Queensland's north.

Chris Fullerton of Fullerton Farms, which has farms in the Sunshine Coast's Beerwah, Glass House Mountains and Elimbah, said he felt for the farmers whose crops may not even cover costs.

A bumper crop in Northern Queensland snowballed into an oversupply that left farmers unable to find buyers, with a single farm west of Townsville forced to dump 40 tonnes of pineapples.

"I don't like to hear of any growers, no matter what crop they're growing, to face that disappointment when you consider what goes into producing that crop: not only the cost, but the hard work and effort,” Mr Fullerton said.

But Sunshine Coast growers are confident they will dodge the worst market conditions, with the harvest period still ahead.

Mr Fullerton expected to start picking the summer crop in the next month. He believed it would take a while for the markets to clear, but had hope prices would bounce back by harvest time.

"While there's continued supply coming onto the market with strong volumes, prices will stay depressed for some time yet, but once those markets start to clear things will come back to normal for the growers relatively soon,” Mr Fullerton said.

Extremely good growing conditions gave northern farmers too much of a good thing.

"The size of the fruit may be a lot bigger than it normally is, which has contributed to excess volumes being put on the market,” Mr Fullerton said.

"It's just as simple as getting rainfall at the right time, not too much, not too little, and consistently warm growing weather.”

Produce retailer Cyril Erbacher, of Erbacher's Fruit and Vegetables, said pineapple prices on the Sunshine Coast were still fairly high despite the oversupply, due to the costs of transporting the fruit from Northern Queensland.

But those prices, currently about $3-4 a pineapple, will soon drop below $3 as local farmers begin their harvest.

"They're just starting their season now, so in the next three weeks there will be plenty of pineapples locally,” Mr Erbacher said.

"We're only getting a couple of bins at the moment, but it won't be long and they'll be in the full swing.”

The local season will last through to April if the weather remains favourable.

Mr Fullerton said the Sunshine Coast crop was looking "as per normal”, with a good dry period through the winter.

"It should be a reasonable season... as long as all the fruit doesn't come at once,” he said.

He said that's exactly what often causes "a big part” of oversupply issues.

"It's not all about just having too much fruit, or the growers that have planted too much,” Mr Fullerton said.

"Sometimes the crop just concertinas, and there might be a couple of weeks' production all come in the one week.

"The fruit doesn't hold back, and there's not a lot of scope for storage of it, so there's only one place where the growers are going to put it and that's on the market.”

Topics:  farmers horticulture pineapple farming sunshine coast


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