Footsteps to the future
Polsoni Pines presents the next generation of pineapple farmers
Robbie Polsoni’s earliest farm memories are of sitting on the pineapple harvester and playing with cardboard boxes for fun.
Now, 20-odd years later and after a taste of working in the city as an electrician, Robbie still proudly calls the family farm his home.
He’s grown up surrounded by hectares of pineapples at his family’s property in Wamuran, where the Polsonis have been growing the golden fruit for more than 30 years.
Farming pineapples is simply part and parcel of who Robbie is.
While some might see the prospect of taking on the family business as daunting Robbie, at 25 years of age, is brimming with opportunity and looks to the future with determination.
His mother Irina was initially surprised by his choice to stay on the farm, saying he could be anything he wanted to be – if he set his mind to it.
But Robbie followed in his father Tony’s footsteps because deep down that’s what he always loved.
Robbie’s parents Tony, 58, and Irina, 55, first began growing in 1984, 12 months before they tied the knot.
Tony was originally a tobacco farmer, like his father before him, before the family shifted to growing pineapples and established Polsoni Pines.
In those early days, when times were tougher, they grew melons in the off-season just to make a living.
They struggled in the first 10 to 15 years cultivating the perfect crop, but their unwavering efforts paid off and now they are reaping the rewards. Through all that time, Irina stood by her husband as a true partner in the business and an active woman in the pineapple industry.
In recent years they have been able to produce up to 2 million pineapples annually, supplying mainly to major retailers like Aldi and Woolworths. Every piece of fruit grown by Polsoni Pines is placed in the supply chain by Todd Parker from Favco QLD.
They have worked hard to meet demand as popularity for pineapples has increased. Tony said customers have turned away from canned varieties towards fresh produce, opening the door for the Polsonis to make a dent in the market. On average, they send 400 tonne of pineapples a month through the supply chain.
They’ve stayed at the forefront of emerging technologies, installing a chlorinated water bath into their tipping, grading, and packing line to further prevent mould from growing on the fruit. In addition, they have turned away from traditional fertiliser towards liquid fertiliser, which has given them greater consistency in their produce.
These days, the Polsonis hold 120 hectares of land, edge-to-edge with Aus Jubilee and Aus Festival varieties. The harvest season is under-way and will continue most days until the end of October.
With little rest in sight for the Polsonis, you’d think they might be aching for a break. But if they are tired, they don’t show it.
In fact, far from slowing down, they have expanded their operation in the last 12 months through taking on the running of Bethonga Pines – a farm down the road from their property.
On a mission to return the farm to its former glory as favour to family friends, the Griggs, just before their matriarch Betty Griggs passed away, the Polsonis took up an extended lease of Bethonga Pines.
Tony grew up with Betty’s son and has fond memories of the woman he recalls as a leader before her time.
“Betty was what I would call a modern woman,” he said. “She could run a business and have a family, but she been doing this years ago. She was a leader.”
You can hear in his voice a deep respect for a woman whose influence he cannot entirely encapsulate in words. It ties closely with his integrity as a farmer who is, first and foremost, a friend to other farmers.
“It’s a dog eat dog world in the city and if you want something, it means you must be taking it from someone else, but grower looks out for grower up here,” he said.
Robbie looks upon the responsibility his dad has taken on with admiration.
“The farm was a wreck, and Dad ended up taking it on just so Betty could see it as it once was,” he said.
When the Polsonis began the restoration process, they had to start almost from scratch.
“You’d hop into a block and you couldn’t crawl through it because there was that much grass in there, it was on the verge of killing the crop,” said Robbie.
“That was one year and three months ago. But it is what it is now. It came back pretty good.”
They treat the Bethonga farm as if it were their own, using the same staff of about 15-20 workers across both properties, and their efforts have paid off.
In less than a year, they have planted a million pineapples (900, 000 Bethonga Golds and 100,000 180s) over 30 hectares.
As the next generation of the family farm, Robbie holds a maturity beyond his years. He is joined by his long-term partner, Natalie Zahariev, 26, who helps Irina run the business side of Polsoni Pines.
Natalie recently completed a Cert IV in bookkeeping to share the load with Irina, with plans to eventually take over the reins for good. Currently she plays a big part in the packing and logistics side of things.
Natalie, who previously worked as a property manager in Brisbane, made the career change because she saw the value of building a life with Robbie in Wamuran and investing her skills in the family business.
Now, she is working with web developers to create the farm’s first website.
“There’s so much too it that you don’t even consider. When I think I’ve got enough information, I’ll see what other farmers have done and there are so many more pages to include,” she said.
Robbie is keen to show the online world the place he knows and loves.
“I want to get a drone flying around farm, as imagery for our homepage so you can just watch a video,” he said.
With their three working dogs and a feisty Maltese by their sides, Robbie and Natalie enjoy living on the farm across the blocks from Robbie’s childhood home, and their eyes are on raising a family of their own there someday.
Their clear passion for the pineapple growing lifestyle puts Polsoni Pines in good hands, but the future of the business does not stop there.
Tony and Irina’s enthusiasm for farming has also been passed down to Robbie’s younger brother Joe, 17, who is studying mechanical engineering at university and plans to bring his newfound knowledge back home to improve the ways in which we handle our fruit.
It is clear family is the future for Polsoni Pines and, as the business grows and changes with the times, it rests in familiar hands.
The Polsoni family were featured in the April 2018 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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By Sam Allen-Ankins