FARMER LEAVES PINEAPPLE INDUSTRY IN ROUGH END TO FAMILY TRADITION
The second-last large pineapple grower in the Gympie region
is picking the last of his fruit and leaving the industry to grow
sugar cane, after more than 30 years farming pineapples.
Between the pine tree plantations at Goomboorian, east of
Gympie, pineapples have dominated the landscape on the
Buchanan family's farms since the late 1970s. Now there
is field after field of sugar cane as far as the eye can see.
Peter Buchanan used to grow more than 5,000 tonnes of
pineapples a year, but now he has just one last crop of 500
tonnes left to pick.
"This is the very last patch of pines that we've got and there's
about 100,000 plants, which is two hectares," Mr Buchanan
said. The farmer's feelings about leaving the industry are
mixed. "It's been a good industry to our family, there's no
denying that. It's been a good industry to a lot of families,"
Mr Buchanan said. "It's sad to see where it's got to.
"Those who can continue on, I think there is a future. Every
industry goes through some rough patches. "The trouble is,
it's not that many years ago there was 100,000 tonne the
(Golden Circle) cannery was putting through.
"Now it's not much more than 20,000 tonnes. The rest is
imported." Four years ago the farm began transitioning to
sugar cane, which is sent north to the Maryborough sugar mill
"But we're third generation, and when there's been a family
history of pines that long, it is hard." The cost of labour has
played a large part in the decision.
"We''ll go into sugar cane now where we'll have one employee
and using contractors, instead of 12 to 20 staff that we
had here a lot of the time for the past three decades," Mr
Buchanan said. The move will be a blow to local employment
in the Gympie region. "That's the story of Australia. We still
grow a lot of beans, zucchinis and broccoli and I still have
about 35 employees," Mr Buchanan said. "We are involved
in a side shoot business, the Pack House in Gympie, that we
work with a couple of other growers. We have 15 to 20 staff
"So this farm since the early 80s has up to 40 to 50
employees, and then on the packing side up to 20, so yeah,
we have been employing a lot of people and therefore putting
a lot of dollars into the community. "Everything has an effect.
At our age and stage, there's no fourth generation coming on.
"For the low returns that we've got for pineapples in the last
six or eight years we've just gone backwards. "You're not
going to keep bashing your head against a wall." After a dry
start to 2016, Mr Buchanan welcomed about 65 millimetres
rain at the weekend.
He hopes it will revive his cane crop, which he estimates is
at least 2,000 tonnes down on the 10,000 tonnes that was
harvested last year.