FOR over 80 years, the Pace family has been providing Australia with fresh sweet tropical pineapples from their property at Rollingstone.
Third-generation farmer Stephen Pace, who is also the Australian Pineapple Growers chairman, produces about 4500 tonnes of the fruit on his 8000 hectare farms on average each year.
Mr Pace’s grandfather bought their first property at Rollingstone in 1936 and they have now have six farms in the area.
They also farm sugar cane at Crystal Creek and Bambaroo, with the fourth generation of the Pace family now also getting involved.
Mr Pace said while the growing conditions had not been ideal at the beginning of the season, he expected the year would only be slightly below average.
“In North Queensland here we’re probably looking at an average of 16 months from planting to harvest, for a pineapple plant as you go further south, it takes a little bit longer because of the cooler weather, so it’s a crop where you need a lot of patience,” he said.
“The growing conditions here have not been ideal, it was dry with only a bit of rain in October/November and the beginning of the wet season was quite late, so it wasn’t ideal but not the worst that could happen.
“The main crop doesn’t come off and we don’t really get wound up volume wise until October, so we’re a bit away from that yet.
“The pineapples are forming now, so if we score a little bit of rain it mightn’t turn out too bad.”
Mr Pace sells his fruit to wholesalers across Australia, who in turn provide the pineapples to major retailers.
He said their main season was from October until around Christmas.
“It’s the summer months predominantly, purely because that's when they grow the best here, and each area as you go further south kicks on as we wind down, so you've got a fairly continual supply of fruit when demand is at its highest.”
That cohesion in the industry was evident when Mr Pace hosted the annual pineapple field days in Rollingstone last week.
“It's the big event for pineapple industry for the year where the growers, predominantly all Queensland based, get together and socialise,” he said.
“It's an opportunity for growers to come along and see what's happening in the industry and put any issues they've got forward.”
Mr Pace said a pineapple plant breeding program was underway to discover plants with better disease resistance and to provide the best eating experience.
“We’re trying to come up with a new variety of pineapple, to give consumers a better eating experience and make it easier for growers to grow them.”