DYNAMIC DUO: Bioberries Tasmania father and son duo, Stuart and Karl Thomas, prepare for a bumper crop at their Breadalbane farm. IMAGE: Craig George
A COOL morning breeze winds its way through the rows of perennials at Bioberries Tasmania, it's just after dawn as a small group of pickers work against the clock to beat the late-spring heat.
A short drive from Launceston Stuart Thompson and his dad Karl have created a technicolour oasis spread across 20 hectares, filled to the brim with varieties of raspberries, thornless blackberries, blueberries and a small section of strawberries.
Establishing the farm in 2017, the pair have been working toward opening a farm gate sale point and café to sell their delicious, hand-picked berries and other value-added products.
"Looking after the berries is a big job," Stuart said, adding he splits his time between maintaining the family's cattle and horses and the berries.
"We're waking up early because we need to handle the fruit while it's cool, otherwise you end up with jam."
Fresh is best
Harvesting straight to punnet ensures the quality of the fruit is retained throughout the process, from paddock to plate.
"There's normally about six pickers per 1000-1200 plants and we'll walk around with picking frames and the berries will go straight into the punnet. There are other methods but we've found this works best for us.
"We'll transfer complete punnets to the field trays, at which point they'll be collected and taken into refrigeration within 30-45 minutes, weather dependent.
"Once chilled, the berries are checked with an infrared gun and weighed to ensure the quality is maintained."
Once the fruit is set on the bush Stuart said, depending on the variety, they will constantly ripen over the course of about six weeks, ebbing and flowing through quality and quantity.
With a 50-50 partnership in the business, Stuart said the original production aims he and Karl had outlined in their initial business plan to send their produce direct to Victoria are far removed from the reality of the farm today.
"We're basically doing the polar opposite. We've diversified and are trying to extend the season as far as possible in order to sell fruit at the farm gate," he said, adding the pair are enjoying a greater community connection by keeping their fruit local and will once again be attending Launceston's Harvest Markets.
Currently working on the final design, Stuart said he hoped to see the shop slab poured within the next month or two.
"Our aim is to pivot to selling as much as humanly possible from our front gate [and] we will have a coffee van here in the interim."
Spending the daylight hours pruning, taping off plants, monitoring irrigation and setting up deterrents for a flock of opportunistic starlings is back-breaking and the pair are not shy when it comes to talking about the hardships the industry is yet to face.
Even so, and showing true resilience, say they will continue to look forward to what the future brings.
*First published November 2021 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.