Grower profile – Frank Caltieri, Hydro-Berry, VIC
For raspberry grower Frank Caltieri, nothing beats being able to grow a great product and supply high-quality raspberry root stock. And growing things certainly runs in his blood.
“I’m a third-generation farmer,” Frank said. “My grandfather came to Australia in the early 1950s from southern Italy, because after the war opportunity wasn’t great in his home country. My grandfather started working on a farm, and eventually sent for his family to come out to Australia. Ultimately they bought their own farm with an orchard with apples and a small patch of blackberries and raspberries.”
Frank’s grandfather passed away at a young age, leaving Frank’s father to run the show when he was just 14 years old. “It must have been tough, but he carried on the family tradition and now I have, too,” Frank said. Over the years the family farm moved into vegetables, before strawberries became the main focus.
“It wasn't until around 2000 that we decided to give raspberries and blackberries a real go,” Frank said. “We’d been growing strawberries in greenhouses for about eight years, so we planted them with raspberries and the following year transitioned away from strawberries to just raspberries and blackberries.”
Today Hydro-Berry is focusing on raspberries and grows six hectares of the fruit, all in greenhouses. While there are still a few blocks planted in the soil, the majority of Frank’s plants are hydroponically grown.
“About nine years ago I went back to school to learn the method of tissue culturing, so we also have a tissue culture lab and our own nursery where we make our own raspberry plants for the farm and for a few other farmers,” Frank said. “This was brought about because we found nurseries were struggling to get us the plant material we needed each year, and the time we needed to plant.”
Hyrdro-Berry grows a range of varieities including Tadmor, Dolomia Plus, Cascade Delight, Vajolet, Autumn Treasure and Lagori, with a couple of new varieties coming soon.
“I love working with new varieties and working out ways to achieve higher standards of fruit quality and yields,” Frank said. “It keeps the monotony away!”
Frank said he thinks the rubus industry has an interesting few years ahead considering the increasing amount of rubus being planted. “There’s a big emphasis on berries at the moment which is great, but I can see our markets becoming saturated very quickly, as the market hasn’t had time to adapt to the volumes coming in,” he said. “There’s also the issue of price stability and our cost of production – our costs keep going up, but our average prices are falling. We’re going to have work on innovative new ways to maximise our growing techniques and explore the possibilities in overseas markets.
“And moving forward I think there needs to be more working together – we’re not just individual farmers taking on the world. Today we’re a lot more open about practices with one another, but there’s still room for improvement. As our industry grows bigger and bigger every year, it’s going to be ever more important to work together as a whole.”
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