Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable often treated like a fruit. Demand for the ruby stems spikes in autumn and winter, but the harvest runs for nearly nine months of the year. So the challenge for commercial growers is finding markets for all grades of rhubarb across the production window.
Australia's biggest rhubarb supplier in Tasmania's north-east, Jerrod Nichols, feeds the stalks to cattle when his produce is not in demand. Mr Nichols started growing the crop commercially on the fertile Scottsdale hills in 2007.
It was a few years after vegetable processor Simplot closed its factory in the town. He decided to take a punt on rhubarb, a crop he knew nothing about. Fourteen years later, the potato and poppy farmer is delivering 14,000 bunches of rhubarb a week to major supermarkets and wholesalers across the country.
More frequent and extreme heat on mainland Australia has lifted demand for Tasmanian-grown rhubarb. Nichols grows about 20 hectares of rhubarb and will plant another 5 hectares next year. "The last couple of years in particular, the demand through the late summer and autumn period has probably exceeded what we've done in the past by a considerable amount. It has enabled us to fill that gap."