Growers in Arms, Brothers by Blood
Fresh produce is the name of the game for pineapple growers the Accorsini brothers

Tony, 55 (pictured), and Rodney Accorsini, 50, have taken their unbreakable brotherly bond and extended it to the business world with many years of joint dedication to growing and packing quality pineapples for markets all over Australia.

Fresh produce has been the family’s priority for more than 50 years, ever since their father began growing several fruits and vegetables across two hectares in Mutarnee, north Queensland. Fast forward half a century and that number sounds meagre compared to the 240 hectares of pineapples the brothers grow today.

Favoured for its sweet flavour and iconic image, the golden fruit has become their main crop complimented by 30 hectares of watermelons and pumpkins that are planted in fallow-ground in-between pineapple harvest seasons.

The Accorsinis rely on a small workforce of four permanent staff members and upwards of seven backpackers to pick and pack throughout the year.

During their main harvest, which runs from August through to Christmas, they enlist the help of packing and distribution company NQ Paradise Pines to send their produce interstate.

“We supply to quite a few retailers locally in Townsville and Cairns. Everything else that goes further south is packed into trays and then transported to Brisbane to be shipped to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth,” Tony said.

Run by general manager Robert Richardson and shed manager Glen Paul, NQ Paradise Pines was set up more than twenty years ago as a cooperative between growers in the Rollingstone and Mutarnee area, and from Bilyana in far north Queensland.

As part-owner of the company, Tony was one of the original growers who joined forces to ensure their fruit quality remained consistent.

No matter whose crop it may be, the shed’s packing staff treat every pineapple that comes through their shed with the best possible care so it can remain in excellent condition upon reaching its intended destination.

When it comes to quality assurance, Tony and his brother have always been very hands-on, maintaining a diligent watch across all functions on-farm.

They share the responsibilities of farm managing; playing to their strengths to capitalise on the most efficient use of their time and skills.

“My brother’s a boiler-maker so he’s in charge of maintenance and takes care of a lot of the ground-prep, while I run my eye over the nutritional program of the pineapples. We jointly share all the other jobs including managing labour. Being just the two of us, that’s more than enough,” Tony said.

To meet consumer demand, the brothers plant 1.1 million pineapple crops each year and harvest another million from the previous year; which counts for the picking of roughly over 2 million pineapples annually.

Their predominant pineapple variety is Hybrid 73-50 but they also grow Smooth Cayenne, MD2 and Australian Jubilees. They use a combination of overhead irrigation on the pineapples and trickle irrigation on their watermelon crop.

A major factor in their demanding work load is the importance of keeping the threat of pests at bay through constant surveillance.

“We do have to be wary of soil borne pests in pineapples, mainly phytophthora, nemotodes, mealybug and cane grubs. It’s just a matter of seeing the early signs because once you can see the effects, the damage has already been done,” Tony said.

While pests can be combated, there is one other significant hazard to growing that no amount of preparation can tame: the wrath of Mother Nature.

“Everything comes back to the weather,” Tony said. “Luckily, pineapples are fairly hearty, they’re not overly affected by cyclonic winds because they’re a short plant. But floods and heavy rain are a problem because they cause ground saturation which creates a lot of root problems for the pineapples. You don’t see it immediately but it comes out six months later in the winter after the roots have been drowned.”

Never ones to shrink away from a challenge, the brothers are always looking ahead to the next product or piece of farming innovation that will best assist them in growing quality produce.

Tony recently participated in field trials at the Elders 2018 Pineapple Field Day to test whether different fertilisers would improve penetration, distribution and drainage of water on his farm.

“We put a trial down of Transformer from E.E. Muir & Sons and Fertilink to see if there was any improvements in our crop,” he said.

“Transformer has shown an increase in root development so that will be interesting to see how produce turns out come harvest time. Like anything with pineapples, it takes a long time.”

Despite constant vigilance, Tony cannot predict how seasonal changes will coincide with the pressures of a changing supply chain. Just earlier this year, the industry faced a glut of produce which left piles of pineapples rotting in north Queensland.

“A lot of it was picked and sent to market but received nothing. Returns were negative. But it’s just one of those things,” Tony said.

“Nobody could see it coming, it was unusual but not unheard of. Again, it was because of the weather. It plays such a large role in when your crop’s ready for picking.”

Subsequently, reducing waste is something Tony said he wants to explore further in the future.

“We’ve looked at all sorts of alternatives and will continue to look because it’s such a waste to throw any fruit away. It costs just as much to grow a pineapple that is rejected than it does to grow one that is goes to market,” he said.

Tony has faced immense challenges in farming but they pale in comparison to the hardship he has also overcome through personal tragedy when he lost his son a few years ago.

“That was a blow to the farming enterprise and our family. But our son-in-law is there and he’s got two lovely children now so I’ve got two grandkids. So hopefully, there’ll be someone to take over the family business,” Tony said with a smile.

It is this positive attitude and tenacity to secure a steady future for his business and family, as well as his generosity to the local community that are key factors for his inalienable success.

Tony often donates small portions of his crop to local events such as the Rollingstone Pineapple Festival which welcomes locals and international visitors. He places a great importance in spending time with the community, even participating in last year’s popular pineapple de-topping competition.

It is this special bond and mutual affection and need for each other that drives him on to greater heights.

“Community is everything. If people don’t know about your product then they’re not going to buy it so engaging with the community and giving something back is what everyone should be doing,” he said.

Accorsini Farms is featured in the September 2018 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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Written by Sam Allen-Ankins