Rolling with the punches

By Jennifer Kent

“You take the good and the bad” and the last few years have dealt out more of the bad for local pineapple farmers. But that doesn’t stop brothers Steve and Brian Moffat getting on with the job at hand day in, day out at their Glass House Mountains farm, Allandale Farms.

They’ve got quite the successful partnership, no doubt carved out over the fifty-plus years they’ve been farming in Glasshouse Country. It is after all, in their blood, their family farming the area for well over a century. 

However, ongoing challenges, rising costs and a change in the landscape of the region has shifted the way in which business operates with Brian sharing the last few years have dealt some of the biggest challenges they’ve faced. 

Like many other pineapple farmers, Allandale Pines – who supply 90% of their produce to Golden Circle cannery – grow all year to keep up supply. However, the extreme wet weather which fell across the south-east this time last year has wreaked havoc on harvest times with the fallout now being felt by growers throughout Queensland.

It’s a pineapple glut. An oversupply brought on by premature natural flowering of the plants.  “Pineapples thrive in mild weather, they don’t like it too wet,” Brian explained. “So last year’s wet weather has caused the plants to flower naturally themselves earlier than usual… this has made them a mature plant now, only a young one.”

Throughout the hectares of pineapple plantations, each in their own stage of the growth cycle, remnants of last year’s downpours and flooding can be seen. 

“There’s also a significant amount of damage to the crop from last year’s weather… It’s pretty disappointing.”

While the damage is obvious for anyone to see, for the farmers, a cost by plant reveals it’s more devastating, than merely disappointing.

Add that to staffing challenges in the years preceding caused by Covid restrictions on backpackers and it’s been a tough few years for an industry which has been the backbone of Glasshouse Country. 

“Staff and weather have been our two biggest challenges over the past few years,” Steve said.

“Border restrictions meant that we didn’t have the backpackers working, and they’re hard workers, however we do have a good crew and some that have been with us for a long time.”  As suppliers of the smooth variety of pineapples, Steve and Brian admit they’re in a better position than those growing hybrid pineapples for market sale, who are experiencing pick rates down significantly on previous years resulting in a significant amount unsuitable for sale. Add that to ongoing rising costs, wages, consistent outgoings and potential slumps in incomings and there is a lot of stress on growers.

“Thankfully, we’re in an okay position… while it’s not the best it’s been there are certainly others out there that are doing it tough.”

Brian and Steve Moffatt at their Glass House Mountains farm

One industry spokesperson, Tropical Pines general manager Anthony Dobson, last year said the region (responsible for producing around 40% of Australia’s pineapples) has been left reeling by the ‘one-in-50-years’ weather events.

“Mother Nature has thrown a curve ball that could push some Queensland pineapple farmers out of business for good,” said Anthony, adding that under normal conditions ‘natural flowering’ accounts for roughly 10% of annual pineapple crops,”

“Instead, up to 70% of this year’s crops [financial year 2022-23], which should be harvested at staggered intervals to ensure continuity of supply 365 days a year, have flowered early…. and all at once.

As a result, he said farmers faced financial hardship for the next 12 to 18 months, with many predicting a 60-90% loss of crops this summer.

While there has no doubt been and will continue to be challenges for our local famers over the coming years, ask Steve and Brian if they’d be doing anything else? “Absolutely not,” the both say, looking to one another. “We’re proud of producing a quality product and regardless of all the challenges, we’ll continue to guarantee a good product… until we’re dragged out of here.”

Main image: Allandale Farms