One grower of fancy lettuces is already planning to diversify their operation following the opening of a new airfreight service out of Brisbane’s Wellcamp Airport, opening a direct route from Queensland’s Darling Downs region to Asia. “We’ve had 13 years of growth operating in the local market, and servicing the Brisbane wholesale market, but now it’s been 1.5 years of devastation,” says Coolana Farming owner Grant Kirkwood. “We started out doing about 30 cartons per week, then expanded each year to about 1200. At the moment it’s probably about 600 cartons per week and we’re wasting a lot.”
The market for the fresh fancy lettuce heads Coolana grows and sells, including red and green oak, coral and butter lettuces, has faced stiff competition from small backyard farmers who deal direct with the consumer, and pre-packaged salads sold in supermarkets, Mr Kirkwood says. “We can probably pick up to 80,000 cartons of lettuces per year, so there’s a lot of potential to service overseas markets.”
The bright spot on the horizon is a soaring demand for fresh, clean Australian produce but until now there has not been such a direct way of transporting lettuce to the continent without losing quality. “We’ve already done a trial, through our agent, sending two pallets of lettuces on 2 occasions into Japan. We can also achieve a shelf life of about two weeks fresh in the fridge.” China, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as Malaysia are potential markets that Coolana can now service thanks to the opening up of the freight route.
The survival of Coolana Farms during trying times, including severe flooding twice in six years, has been down to strong relationships with suppliers, and sticking with local and seasonal workers, according to Mr Kirkwood. “We’ve always done things differently, and we started with a particular system and had to keep going that way as we expanded. We’ve been using a bigger growing medium and it produces beautiful fresh lettuces.”
The new freight route commenced on Monday, November 24, and included beef and grain, as well as fresh mangoes and lettuces from other growers. The service is operated by carrier airline Cathay Pacific.
For more information