Blueberries in the pink
By CRAIG McTEAR
IT might only be small, but the humble blueberry is fast taking the world by storm. And that's put a big smile on the dial of general manager of Blueberry Farms of Australia Peter McPherson, who says the Corindi-based operation is now in overdrive to fill the surging demand. The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary and with an annual turnover at Corindi exceeding $20 million, the industry is considered an important economic driver in the region. "Our crop is looking extremely good and we're anticipating it will be a record year as far as production is concerned," Peter said. "That, of course, depends on Mother Nature giving us a fair go ? not too many rainy days, plenty of sunshine and no hail." While blueberries can be picked year-round, the big volumes are now starting to kick in. "We're busy as all hell. Our season doesn't normally start until October, but it began six weeks earlier because of a shortage of quality fruit overseas, and we also had a warm winter," Peter said. "New varieties have come online earlier and that has allowed us to enter full-swing into our export season. "Overall, the demand for blueberries globally is out-of-this world. "In the United Kingdom last year alone, consumption was double over the previous year. "People are snapping them up because they have the highest concentration of antioxidants you can find in any produce. "Both from a picking point of view and volume, things are really starting to pick up dramatically, and by mid-October we'll really be flying. "This week we sent our first shipment to (supermarket chain) Marks and Spencer in the UK, and we're contracted to supply them right through until February. "Our business in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong is also looking extremely good." Peter has 200 pickers on site at the moment but that will multiply to a pool of more than 1000 by December. "We'll hit our straps in three weeks and that will take us right through to Christmas," he said. The outlook is so promising the firm is adding the final touches to an additional 100 or more acres of blueberry plants on the plateau. Blueberry Farms of Australia also has enterprises at Tumbarumba in southern NSW and in Tasmania, with the picking season in those areas scheduled to start in the New Year. "We're recognised as the premium blueberry producer in the world," Peter said. It's also raspberry season, and the company is sending its first ever shipment of raspberries and blueberries to Moscow this week.
In God's garden . . . Jaswinder Bajwa (left) and Sukhdeep Nahal have plenty to keep them occupied at Blueberry Farms of Australia at Corindi. Photo: CHRIS RIX 05101001A