A two-pronged approach

to sustainability with a biofilter 

Row upon row of pineapples line up, pointing high toward the clouds on what is a cold, drab day at Pine-Co on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. In the distance, the Glass House Mountains shoot skyward.

For second generation pineapple growers Faruk and Catherine Buzaki, they get to take in this view everyday while working the farm.

The social, cultural, and economic significance of the Glass House Mountains and Sunshine Coast is not lost on them, nor is their goal to create a sustainable business model that their family can continue to farm for generations to come.

First purchased by Catherine’s father John Winterhoff in 1962, Pine-Co has ridden a sustainable trajectory ever since.

“John had great foresight in ensuring the farm is well drained down to this natural biofilter,” Faruk said, as we stand among virgin bushland, green and reaching for the sky, fertilised from runoff water from crops further up the hill.

John devised a system to move surface and sub-surface runoff water to drain down into the virgin bushland, which acts as a natural biofilter.

John installed four kilometres of French drainage, otherwise known as ag drain.

The ag drain is 1,000 mm deep x 200 mm wide and contains a 60 mm slotted pipe in a depth of 400 mm of gravel.

Here at the base of the crops, at the start of the bushland and biofilter, one watches water drip into a stream that slowly moves through the bush.

“We are working hard to get our soil nutrient ratios correct to ensure a well-balanced soil this reduces leeching of nutrients into our biofilter,” Catherine said.

“Then using this bushland as a biofilter means water leaving the property is clean.

“The bushland takes up the nutrients, and some chemicals will break down in the bushland too.

“As you can see, the bushland is healthy, this is our litmus test to make sure the nutrients and chemicals are not doing anything bad.”

If the water level rises because of a storm – commonplace because of the current La Nina – it will slowly make its way down through the marshy bushland into Coochin Creek – clean and free of nutrient runoff or chemicals.

Proactive, through the Hort360 SEQ water quality project 

With the drainage system John set up also keeping the army of pineapples disease-free and healthy, the Pine-Co team wanted to measure the gains they’ve made.

Enter Growcom’s Hort360 South East Queensland (Hort360 SEQ) Water Quality project.

With the guidance of project manager Tim Wolens and project facilitator Lene Knudsen, Pine-Co was able to measure their success in environmental sustainability.

“We completed a Hort360 health check with Growcom which was a great way to gauge how our sustainable strategy was travelling,” Catherine explained.

“We test the soil in each paddock before planting to ensure that we add the correct amount of nutrients and micro-nutrients to create a nutritionally balanced soil with a good Ph.

“We utilise the great people at Growcom to monitor nutrient levels entering and leaving the biofilter and with great results so far.”

Additionally, the Hort360 SEQ water quality project team launched a drone over the farm.

“Flying the drone over the Pine-Co crops gave Catherine and Faruk the opportunity to identify wet spots and drainage lines in the field to help reduce costs and increase yields,” Tim said.

“The drone images help to layout drainage and farm better so that they can manage surface flow that leads into the biofilter.”

Soil management 

Managing soil to grow sustainable, top-quality pineapples is a priority for Pine-Co.

To meet their objective of producing top-quality pineapples, in collaboration with Growcom, Pine-Co is boosting soil health with compost trials.

Pine-Co’s goal with the compost trials is to outlay the process across the crops, to boost nutrient retention, increase soil carbon and cation exchange capacity.

“Fertilisers are so ridiculously expensive nowadays due to world events with price increases of up to 100 percent and constant shortages of supply,” Catherine said.

“It is becoming so much more challenging to afford and buy nutrients that we have to search out and use other nutrient sources like compost so we can continue supplying fresh, healthy food.”

Innovation on-farm at Pine-Co  

Faruk relies on his past engineering skills to improve crop production. From his trailblazing top harvester that harvests planting material from pineapple plants, to a crop divider that cuts a track wide enough for pickers to pick pineapples without the challenges of interwoven leaves.

Faruk also has two more machines under development, an automatic plant top sizer. This machine will size planting material to ensure a more uniform crop. The second is a new style pineapple planter that will plant tops at four times the current speed. It does this by using a completely different method by which planting material is preloaded in magazines in a shed.

In the end, Pine-Co’s goals don’t stop with the present day.

“If we manage the farm as an intergenerational investment, not just a one off short-term monetary gain, we can invest in its health and it will be good for generations of our family, not just us,” Catherine said.

Catherine is planning that the farm is passed down to her children Megan and Jessie and then then to their children.

Pineapple farmers to benefit from new Hort360 incentive 

The Hort360 SEQ water quality project team is calling out to all pineapple farmers in the Pumicestone Passage region to apply for grants, through the Hort360 SEQ Incentive Scheme.

The Scheme supports on-farm projects to boost water quality in the Pumicestone Passage and its catchments.

“The initial funding is for pineapple growers in the Pumicestone and will hopefully lead to wider funding across the south-east Queensland catchment area and other commodities,” Hort360 SEQ water quality project manager Tim Wolens said.

Through the Incentive Scheme, a pineapple grower could use funding to build a biofilter, bioreactor or other projects that boost water quality in the Pumicesetone Passage and its catchments.

For more details on how pineapple growers can apply, contact Tim Wolens (0409 848 076 or twolens@growcom.com.au) or Lene Knudsen (0429 000 179 or lknudsen@growcom.com.au).

Written by Martin Volz
Photography by Lachlan Mitcherson

Pine-Co is featured in the January/February 2023 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.