Resilience breeds sweet gig at Bonnyrig

Being at the cutting edge of pineapple production through thick and thin is in Ian Fullerton’s blood.

Ian Fullerton, 61, supplies up to 1.2 million fresh pineapples each year to Pure Gold Pineapples for the supermarket, green grocer and hospitality sectors.

He has been farming at his 96 hectare Beerwah property Bonnyrig for 45 years and, in that time, has always allowed trials to be carried out on his crops to advance practices in pineapple farming.

In Ian’s family, allowing trials on farm dates back more than a century to when the Fullertons started growing pineapples in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Ian’s father Hector, who migrated from Scotland as a young lad with his parents and siblings in the early 1900s, also always allowed trials to be run on his pineapple crops.

Hector had to leave the farm twice – first to serve in WWI at 18 and then in WWII as a relatively young widower after his first wife died giving birth to their only son.

In that time, Hector and his brother Rob – who traded as Fullerton Brothers – branched out to start another farm at Beerwah. Rob and other brother, Roy, held down the fort when Hector was at war.

Those early farming days were tumultuous times for the Fullertons but, even during those tough years, they were always looking at ways to advance their practices.

Hector was one of the founders of the local Coochin Creek Fruit Growers Co-Operative, and Ian carried on that connection as a director of the Co-op for 24 years.

Currently there are three trials running at Ian Fullerton’s place – a trial of the plant growth promoting microbial product Great Land, a trial to de-stress plants to stop precocious flowering and a controlled release nitrogen fertiliser trial.

The controlled release fertiliser trial – due for completion in November – is being carried out in conjunction with the Coochin Creek Fruit Growers Co-Operative and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The main intention of the nitrogen trial – which is also being done on the nearby property of Robert Frizzo – is to enhance pineapple plant establishment by using controlled release fertiliser while reducing leaching losses to the environment.

The trial, which is for pineapple production in the Pumicestone Passage, takes in Coochin Creek which runs through Ian’s property.

Ian said, while the creek was already relatively healthy at Bonnyrig, he had always seen value in looking at ways to improve his practices.

“I have platypus in the creek, fish swimming around, and I don’t think anything’s going too wrong – everything’s growing alright and there’s wildlife around the place,” he said.

“In this trial, one of the leading priorities is the environmental side of things. A very close second is the better utilisation of nitrogen and therefore better economics in your purchasing. If you’re going to achieve a better result and use more of the nitrogen without losing it, it’s clearly an economic advantage to you to have that sort of product.”

Ian’s confidence to allow trials on his farm comes down to experience.

“Right from the beginning we’ve done it here – my father used to do it – and it’s just a logical thing to do,” he said.

“I’ve lost count of how many trials I’ve allowed – 40 or 50, more, maybe. I’ve been doing it long enough to know the pertinent questions to ask. I’ve had people want to do trials and they haven’t got a foot on the farm because it’s been some airy-fairy stupid darn thing and if it all went wrong it was going to be at my expense. So, they never got to start. They’ve got to be a legitimate company, a legitimate product, and reasonable potential,” he said.

“Some farmers worry about the  inconvenience. Others would rather have the potential gain of developing a better, more economical product, so it’s worth a little bit of hassle. And that’s more my way of thinking.”

Ian said, aside from the environmental and economic benefits, the interest in allowing trials to improve farm practices was also partly consumer-driven.

“With social media and the world being full of so much more information about everything you do,  we have a consumer that wants to know, ‘how is my fruit grown? What does the farmer use on it? What am I eating? What happened to this pineapple up to the point of it getting to me on the table?’”

“With the knowledge we all have now and the clear rules set down by Freshcare as well as their auditing process, the consumer can trust this as a quality product. The cleaner, greener, more economical and more environmentally friendly it is, increases the consumer’s acceptance of a product, and make it more appealing,” he said.

Mr Fullerton said, at the end of the day, it was about keeping his farm viable into the future.

“I really believe in nature and looking after things, but you’ve got to balance it with your ability to farm and be commercially viable. Because this isn’t a hobby farm, it’s an actual farm to make money out of,” he said.

Ian Fullerton was featured in the July 2017 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
Subscribe to our monthly magazine here.

By Susie Cunningham