The diminutive defoliating blueberry bushes look far from impressive on arrival compared to their well-established grape vine counterparts on surrounding blocks.
But at West Cape Howe in Mt Barker, where 28,000 blueberry bushes have been planted over the last two years, seven partners will reap the benefits of risk when they hit full-scale production in four years’ time.
Mt Barker Blueberry Company was founded in 2010 and completed its first pick this year after planting its second 4ha block, in the process becoming the biggest blueberry farm in WA.
Viticulturalist and business partner Glen Harding said the foray into growing the tiny nutrition-packed fruit started after a long period of hardship in the grape industry and after two seasons of trial and error, the humble blueberry’s future was starting to look promising.
“We think we’ve got the growing right, the picking was good, now we just need to turn our attention to the packaging,” he said.
“It will be a really well-presented product and it’s quite high value, and we’re doing a few different sizes from 125g punnets to the standard 375g up to 1kg for the restaurant market.”
In January the first harvest yielded 4000 punnets of fruit, much of which was sent fresh to market within 24 hours of picking.
According to Australian Blueberry Growers’ Association more than 2400 tonnes of blueberries with a value of $30 million are picked from farms across Australia each year.
Half of these are sold fresh into the Australian domestic market, 30 per cent is exported to Asia and Europe, while the remaining 20 per cent of fruit is processed, mainly as frozen product.
But Mt Barker Blueberry Company is keeping options open, with plans to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing health juices and alcoholic spritzers in the near future as well as supplying fresh fruit to domestic and Asian markets. Youngs Siding-based Eden Gate Blueberry Farm owners Andre Roy and Amanda Noack said a flood of fruit on the Australian market meant creating value-adding products was essential.
“We’ve got a good corporate presence, we do jam and chutney, value add is the way we’re going,” Mr Roy said.
Eden Gate also plans to go back into blueberry wine production in collaboration with other two berry farmers in the south of the state later this year.