Our blueberries take on the world
By BELINDA SCOTT
BLUEBERRIES basking in the sun at Corindi yesterday will be on dinner tables in Tokyo tonight and in London tomorrow.
Loaded straight into refrigerated trucks from field stations, then into forced-air cooling units and an air-conditioned packing shed, the plump berries, coveted worldwide for their flavour and antioxidant properties, are cooled and packed for travel within two hours of leaving their bushes.
Travelling aboard refrigerated Lindsay Bros trucks from the farm to Sydney or Brisbane, they are air-freighted across the world to be on European tables 48 hours after leaving the paddock.
Blueberry Farms of Australia general manager Peter McPherson says this month it is all systems go at the farm to make the most of the short window when BFA can command premium prices in Japan and the UK, including Britain's famous Marks and Spencer department stores.
BFA, which began life in 1984 as a group of cluster farms hewed out of the Corindi bush by Bonville developer Tony Johnson and the Johnson family, is now a world-beating berry fruit powerhouse which exports 40 to 60 per cent of its production.
It is also one of the Coffs Coast's largest employers with an annual wages bill of about $13 million. It also has plans to develop a new multi-million dollar packhouse in the next two years.
BFA is a listed public company under the title Chiquita Brands South Pacific Ltd and the operation is in the business news this month with the company's board rejecting a revised $109 million takeover offer from Tradefresh Pty Ltd, saying the price tag was not high enough.
Tradefresh is owned by the fruit producer's major shareholder, Victoria's Costa family, and agribusiness investor Timbercorp.
But for Coffs Harbour, the giant blueberry farm, which also grows raspberries and macadamia nuts, represents jobs for a workforce of around 1000 people, rising to 1200 people during peak picking times.
And those people are aged from 16 to 60s and represent a 'United Nations' face, with backpackers, new arrivals, students and retirees working alongside professional pickers.
Operations manager Scott Wolgamot, who arrived at Corindi in 1984 to clear trees for the site's developer, says work is never boring and everything has changed in the past 22 years, from the shire where the farm is located to the government departments he deals with to the corporation he works for 'and the farming has changed most of all'.
"We have had to behave ourselves since we moved into the new shed with the bosses just around the corner" said 19-year packing shed veteran Unice McPherson.
This week they are trialling a new $300,000 packing line designed to better monitor workflow and cut down on overweight or underweight punnets.
New long-cane raspberries are being planted out for tunnel cultivation and these young plants will yield their first fruit within weeks.
Raspberry picking is a year-round operation in a climate where raspberries should not even be able to grow, thanks to cunning chilling and cultivation techniques that 'fool' the fruit into flowering and fruiting.