Kate Sutherland - Burlington Berries
"Pay people properly and treat them well"
Burlington Berries Pty Ltd is a family-owned company producing soft fruit, established in 2012. With over 35ha of soft fruit, it is one of the largest independent berry growers in Tasmania.
Originally one of the richest wheat growing areas in Tasmania, today Cressy is home to many specialised crops including vegetables, poppies, potatoes and berries. Burlington, with sunny north facing slopes is complimented with established shelter belts and plentiful water.
"Field harvesting runs from October through to June, with our polytunnels providing security of production, protection from the elements and guaranteeing high quality berries," said Kate Sutherland, Managing Director. "All our berries are cooled and packed in our own “on farm” pack house. Specialised refrigeration and tandem packing lines, combine with a daily refrigerated transport link to Devonport and distribution centres."
Kate and her husband Stewart who jointly own Burlington Estate, partnered with Marion and Jon Regan, owners of Hugh Lowe Farms in the UK to form Burlington Berries. The Regan’s are one of the largest strawberry growers in the UK and Hugh Lowe Farms has been growing fruit for 120 years. The Sutherlands also own Upper Murray Seeds, an independent seed company specialising in forage and turf seed. These seeds are grown on production farms, then processed and sold both domestically and internationally.
Burlington Berries supplies Driscolls Australia with Amesti Strawberries, and Maravilla Raspberries. Driscolls controls the marketing and distribution of berries through to supermarkets and markets both on the Australian mainland and in Tasmania..
Kate explained that starting up a berry business in Tasmania has been a challenge and has been a case of learning from her mistakes. One of the key challenges is the availability and quality of labour, and there has certainly been a lot in the press about the various issues. One thing that was clear at Burlingtons however, was that there was absolutely no question of how well the Pacific Island workers were looked after.
The Sutherlands have built a first class complex for the workers to live in, with lots of communal space for the rest times, there is also a village manager who coordinates the workers. He manages their roster and they all enjoy taking turns in the kitchen. The accommodation is modern and clean and well spaced and can house 120 people. For the backpackers,of which Kate said they have no shortage, there is a hostel in the nearest town.
Burlingtons can offer six months work which does attract the back packers, also Kate's philosophy of "pay people properly and treat them well" goes along to securing the needed labour each season. At the height of the season 420 seasonal worker are needed.
Kate also says that they have been fortunate to started their berry enterprise when the margins were good, giving them the chance to invest.
The other key issues include the importance to Tasmania of biosecurity and the change in climatic conditions. Overall Tasmania has good growing conditions and Australia's soft fruit industry is expanding.
For more information:
Tel: +61 3 6397 6591
Publication date: 3/6/2018
Author: Nichola McGregor
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