Piñata Farms trials polytunnels
Leading Queensland strawberry producer Piñata Farms will, for the first time, trial polytunnel production at its Granite Belt farm in a quest to increase marketable yield.
Managing director, Gavin Scurr, said polytunnel construction on 1.6 hectares at Piñata Farms' Stanthorpe strawberry farm would begin on August 17.
Piñata Farms has grown strawberries at Wamuran on the Sunshine Coast since 2000. Last year, it harvested its first spring-summer crop at Stanthorpe, heralding the start of year 'round production.
Polytunnels to reduce rain damage
"As Stanthorpe is our summer production farm – and it rains more in summer in Queensland – our main aim is to protect the fruit from rain.
"We knew when we started producing a summer crop that rain damage was a probability. We lost about 30 per cent of last season's crop due to rain, so now is the time to implement our polytunnel plan."
Mr Scurr said Piñata Farms expected to achieve less waste as well as a better overall quality of fruit as a result of protected cropping.
"We're also expecting to use less chemicals due to the fruit remaining dry. And because the plants will be warmer, they will produce fruit earlier.
"Initially, we'll trial polytunnels over about 12 per cent of the total summer crop. We'll trial a similar area at Wamuran next winter.
"Although it will be a trial, we will probably implement polytunnels across the whole Stanthorpe farm once proven. This is what happened in Europe where polytunnel strawberry production is now widespread."
Supplied by leading tunnel and greenhouse manufacturer, Haygrove Tunnels of Ledbury in the United Kingdom, the polytunnels will be installed by Piñata Farms over a period of several weeks.
Currently in Europe, Mr Scurr has recently visited Haygrove Tunnels.
The industry standard polytunnels feature steel frame infrastructure covered in clear polythene film. Those built for Piñata Farms would be 8.5 metres wide and four metres high – the widest available, Mr Scurr said.
"The tunnels are a standard structure used by most strawberry producers in Europe. Several Australian producers have been growing strawberries in them for about five years with good results."
The Stanthorpe property was recently blanketed in eight to 10 centimetres of snow after the region recorded its first significant snowfall in more than two decades.
While early-stage plants already in the ground were in winter dormancy and escaped long-term damage, Mr Scurr said polytunnels would have further protected the crop from potential snow damage.
Summer planting set for November
Once the polytunnels are in place, summer planting is expected to begin at Stanthorpe in November for harvesting from February to June, 2016.
Piñata Farms produces strawberries year 'round on approximately 32 hectares at Wamuran (for production from May-September) and 10 hectares at Stanthorpe (for production from September-May).
Piñata strawberries are available at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, as well as selected independent retail outlets.