• Piñata Farms has successfully incorporated recommendations from Growcom’s Hort360 South East Queensland project into its farming methods to boost efficiency and cropping systems.
  • Ratoon cropping reduces the chances of erosion and sediment runoff on pineapple crops.
  • Ratoon crops leave the canopy beneath the pineapple leaves very dark, reducing the chance of weed growth and greatly diminishing the application of herbicide.
  • Mature pineapple plants are better able to utilise fertilisers, whereas young pines can’t fully access the benefits.
  • Contour drains save fields from erosion.

There’s no one silver bullet to implementing sustainable practices on-farm, Managing Director of Piñata Farms, Gavin Scurr, states.

Piñata Farms, through Growcom’s Hort360 South East Queensland (Hort360 SEQ) project is taking a proactive lead as a grower champion – showcasing their commitment to a sustainable future for the Pumicestone Passage in South East Queensland. 

Hort360 SEQ promotes sustainable land management practices in the Lockyer, Fassifern and Sunshine Coast hinterland while addressing sediment, nutrient, herbicides, and pesticides entering local water ways.

Farming in seven locations from Darwin across to Mareeba and down to Hobart, Fruit and Vegetable News caught up with Mr Scurr at his home farm in Wamuran – where rolling fields of pineapples stretch out and sustainability practices mean better soil health, better crop rotations and better savings.

“We’ve been developing practices for the past 25 years to make a more sustainable – particularly from an environmental perspective – pineapple farming operation,” Mr Scurr said.

More recently, in the past four years, the Scrurr family has incorporated contour drains into fields at Wamuran. The implementation of these drains come on the back of their success on the Scurr’s crops at Mareeba.  

The results speak for themselves – contour drains slow down water leaving the field and reduce the chances of sediment runoff and erosion.

This helps preserve the land for sustainable future use and reduces Piñata Farms’ footprint on the surrounding Pumicestone Passage catchment – a region the Scurrs’ have farmed pineapples on for three generations.

Mr Scurr speaks openly about Piñata Farms from a family perspective, and that sustainability is as important to the personal lives of his family as it is to business success.

“As a family we’ve been here for more than 50 years and we don’t want to degrade the soil so that the family can’t be here for another 50 years,” Mr Scurr said.

That sentiment is shaping innovations in pineapple cropping.

Mr Scurr grows two pineapple crops per field every four years – paving the way to harvest ratoon crops.

“The most fragile time is the first six months after planting when the soil does not have cover in early establishment,” Mr Scurr said.

“We are growing more ratoon crops profitably which we prepare the soil for only once every four years verse single cropping, which is twice every four years – the soil’s got a full cover on it for longer.”

Relying on mature pineapple plants for a second-year harvest leaves a substantial – and strong – cover on the ground.

As a result, the chance of erosion is diminished and less sediment and nutrients run into the Pumicestone Passage catchment. Also, fewer weeds grow, reducing the application of herbicide.

“Pineapple leaves break up rain drops and then turn to mist by the time they hit the ground and this all helps to minimise erosion,” Mr Scurr said, leaving the soil intact and stable,” Mr Scurr said.

“Fertiliser rates remain about the same but with larger adult pineapple plants, better able to utilise the fertiliser.

“Beneath the pineapples it’s very dark – all shaded and virtually nothing grows so we don’t need to use nearly the same amount of herbicide on ratoon crops.”

In all, through the Hort360 SEQ, Piñata Farms:

  • Implemented contour drains across their entire pineapple operations to mitigate soil erosion.
  • Utilises low / no residual pesticide products – fumigants to limit off farm pesticide exceedances.
  • Developed inter-row spraying equipment for spraying of geopolymers / soil stabilising products.
  • Continues to incorporate precision spraying equipment to minimise pesticide inputs.
  • Continues to develop sediment catchment and breakdown ponds to manage off farm movement.
  • Continues to develop methods and evaluates products to minimise soil erosion across all areas of the farm.

The state of play

When Mr Scurr was asked by Fruit and Vegetable News about how he wears so many hats, he was steadfast in his answer.

“With some very good people,” he replied. “We have some very good people who operate the farms day to day,” he said.

Mr Scurr is reflective of the practices Piñata Farms has implemented – including contour drains and ratoon farming practices – in the scheme of water quality management in the Pumicestone Passage catchment.

“Doing things better doesn’t mean you have done them wrong in the past – there’s new technology and new parameters,” Mr Scurr said.

“Currently – and there will be for some time – the environment is resonating with consumers and we need to be responsible custodians.

“While most farmers are doing a jolly good job at that, we can always do better.

“Most farmers – particularly Australian farmers – are known for their initiatives and ingenuity.

“We don’t pretend to be the only farmers doing this.”

Mr Scurr said that while Piñata Farms focuses on minimising erosion, sediment runoff and maximising utilisation of fertilizers, he is honest about their business practices.

“We are proud of what we are doing but we don’t want any inference that other growers are doing less than ideal practices,” he said.

“That’s not the image we want to portray for the industry to the broader community.

“If we didn’t use chemicals, most of the population would starve because they couldn’t afford it.

“No one can afford utopia. There needs to be a balance”

Raspberry’s rule

  • Piñata Farms tweaked raspberry production by chilling plants in cold rooms to induce the effects of a very cold winter to bring them into a production phase.
  • The challenge: Growing raspberries during short winter days versus 17-hour summer days in England, where the stock originally hailed from.

Piñata Farms is a progressive, forward-looking operation and nothing sums that up more than their trialling of raspberries near Wamuran.

“We brought over the world’s best-tasting raspberries from the UK and they went through two years of quarantine,” Mr Scurr said.

Five years on, raspberry crops rub shoulders with the long-stemmed pineapple crops.

To grow the fruit commercially, Piñata Farms trialled the best methods to get the most from production plants.

“Raspberries like a temperate crop grown in summer,” Mr Scurr explained.

“What we are doing is growing them in a subtropical climate during winter.

“We’ve got 11 hours of daylight during winter whereas they’ve got 16-18 hours of daylight during summer.

“Tweaking the plant to bear as much as possible during a shorter day has been the challenge.”


For further information or to book a property visit, please contact:

Tim Wolens
Hort360 SEQ Project Manager
0409 848 076
twolens@growcom.com.au

Lene Knudsen
Hort360 SEQ Facilitator
0429 000 179
lknudsen@growcom.com.au

Hort360 SEQ is funded by the Department of Environment and Science.