Fusion Farming pays off for Schultz family
They jokingly call themselves ‘accidental strawberry farmers’ because of how they entered the industry, but the Schultz family’s farming practices are anything but unintentional.
Adrian and Amanda Schultz, together with their children Maddy and Lachlan and Adrian’s parents Bob and Joy, grow strawberries at Wamuran and supply central markets in Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle and Melbourne.
Growing strawberries wasn’t always the plan, however.
They bought their 40 acre block in 2003 to expand Bob and Joy’s successful Australian native flower export business. But, when rising transport costs and the ailing Australian dollar meant the flower business wasn’t viable anymore, they went into full-time strawberry production.
Now, they grow about 200,000 strawberry plants (particularly the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland-developed Rubygem and American varieties Festival and Splendour) across 8.5 acres and market their strawberries under the name LuvaBerry.
They have also expanded to grow herbs and finger limes, with plans to double their 1.5 acre finger lime operation and tap into the export finger lime market in 2018.
The Schultzs attribute much of their success to ‘fusion farming’ – a term they use to describe their best management practices on farm.
It is no secret within horticultural circles that the industry as a whole is moving towards more sustainable practices.
In a bid to put the spotlight on positive practices within the industry, the Schultz family started describing what they do on their farm as ‘fusion farming’.
On their LuvaBerry marketing materials, they sum up their approach with the phrase, ‘we keep the soil healthy and use less chemicals’.
Adrian said his family’s approach was a balance of chemical use, biological and organic methods, integrated pest management (IPM), reduced soil tillage and even the use of bee hives, to assist with pollination.
He said they also pay their staff to physically remove diseased fruit from plants to reduce the need for chemicals.
“The term ‘fusion farming’ is just our way of trying to explain what we’ve aimed to do for a long time, and to easily communicate the ideology behind how we run the farm,” Adrian said.
“It’s a fusion of some older ways of doing things and adopting new technologies and methods and getting the best result out of a fusion of them all together.
“In some ways it’s about marketability, but also we practice fusion farming because we live here. My kids eat the fruit so obviously we want to make sure what we’re producing is safe and of best quality.
“It has involved doing trials every year for the last 15 years. Every year we’d trial a different product to see how it works, and you have to do that on an ongoing basis to see what works on your farm.”
Adrian, who is also the vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, said he knew his family weren’t the only ones embracing best management practices.
“There are a lot more people who have adopted these practices than there were around 10 years ago, but there is a need to be seen to be actively doing things,” he said.
“Sometimes I think some people have the impression that farmers go out there and hammer their soil, but in reality we look at our soil as though it’s our bank. So we’ve got to look at what we put into it, that it’s for the longevity of the farm. “
He said it was becoming easier to adopt more modern ways of farming.
“A decade ago we had to brew our own microbes here on the farm – it’s called tea bagging – but these days you can buy a lot of the fertilisers with microbes in them,” he said.
“At the end of the day, farmers want to do the best job and be environmentally sustainable but it’s also got to be profitable. Luckily technology has brought us ways of more easily incorporating microbes into our processes to make the fertilisers more available to the plant.”
It is all well and good to aspire to clean and green farming practices, but at the end of the day every farmer must run a profitable business.
Adrian said, while there were some higher costs involved in fusion farming, it was no more expensive than ordinary farming.
“If we didn’t use predator bugs we’d have to use some fairly harsh chemicals to control the mites because they’re a big problem with horticultural crops and, because they have a very short life cycle, you have to rotate your chemicals on a regular basis. So you’re using a lot of chemicals and that’s expensive,” he said.
“Putting the IPM in, it does cost you money to set up, but once they’re in there they basically take care of the crop for you. They might be a little bit more expensive, but then you save money by not spraying all season.
“The important thing is we’re running a business here, and it’s great to have these ideological aspirations about being as clean and green as possible but it has to be profitable. You need to be able to run your business and do it in a way that you can still make money.”
Adrian and Amanda Schultz were featured in the June 2017 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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By Susie Cunningham