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Pineapple growers want fair go for smaller sized fruit

By Tom Major, Wednesday June 14, 2017 - 17:19 EST
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One Queensland pineapple grower says size makes no difference to taste. - ABC

The chair of Australian Pineapple Growers is urging grocery shoppers and supermarkets to give smaller sized fruit a fair go.

ABC TV's the phenomenon of on-farm waste, described by the program's Craig Reucassel as "quite shocking".

Stephen Pace of Rollingstone, 50 kilometres north-west of Townsville, in north Queensland, grows about 160 hectares of pineapples on his property and said people would be surprised at the tonnes of fruit he throws away every year.

"Typical of most horticultural commodities now, there's a certain size a lot of the buyers chase," he said.

"Certainly the medium to large fruit is the most sought after [and] that can get anywhere from a $4 to $8 premium over the smaller fruit per carton.

"[It makes] no difference to the taste; actually some people say the small fruit tastes sweeter."

Costs too high to transport small fruit

Ultimately, the lower price paid for small fruit under normal market conditions makes selling those pineapples uneconomic for the farmer.

"If it's costing us more to put it in a box and send it away, I can't see any point in that," Mr Pace said.

"It's easier to throw it on the ground then and there instead of going backwards."

After a 2016 season marred by poor rainfall and smaller fruit size, Mr Pace's farming business felt the pinch of lower turnover.

He said that while juicing or drying small fruit could be an option, distance from processors made transport costs prohibitive.

With the nearest juice processor located more than 400 kilometres away in Mackay, the $120 a tonne paid for juicing pineapples is not enough to make it viable for Pace Farming.

"It's definitely always been on our radar to try and find outlets for the fruit that we can't market, whether it be may be drying or juicing the fruit," Mr Pace said.

Getting return from farm waste

While banana growers had been utilising waste products for many years, Mr Pace said the high water content of pineapples made it a more difficult proposition.

Despite running a busy family farming operation, he said he was open to investigating either mulching or composting his waste product.

"I don't know how pineapples would go," he said.

"There is a lot of water in the fruit, but if we could do something in that respect and put it back in the soil as mulch, yeah... I'd definitely be very interested in that too."

Mr Pace said ultimately, he appealed to consumers to understand that non-standard fruit size was usually a result of imperfect growing conditions — like drought — and farmers needed the public's support most during such times.

"We certainly set out to grow the size of fruit we can sell, but on the fruit size for that particular season," he said.

"I guess I'd ask consumers to be a bit more aware and normally, if there's smaller fruit for sale, it means growing conditions have been a bit tough, so get behind the farmers and buy it."


© ABC 2017

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