STICKING to controlled traffic has continued to pay dividends for Maryborough pineapple grower Jeff Atkinson.
At the heart of the operation is a common-sense approach that, if all crops were planted under 2-metre centres,
then machinery could be used for multiple crops. The tactic serves the operation well as the farm produces pineapples, sugarcane and soybeans on a basic rotation.
The changeover to one standard row width took about five years and plenty of dollars, but Mr Atkinson said he wouldn't turn back. "We've cut our fuel consumption and tractor hours by a third," he said.
The soybeans are rotated mostly with the sugarcane.
The 2m centre-controlled traffic, now all done under GPS guidance, means hardened headlands and wheel tracks leave room for easier paddock working.
"A lot of the blocks of cane haven't had ripper tine in them for up to 12 years in the wheel tracks, and the pineapples are the same," Mr Atkinson said.
The wheel track spacings also allow the pineapples to be irrigated via an overhead system in dry times, however the past year has delivered near ideal pineapple production conditions.
Mr Atkinson farms the property with his wife Glenys and two sons Kepler and Farren. The family has been on the property since 1988.
With the boys focusing largely on the cane side of things, Mr Atkinson also relies heavily on the vast pineapple experience and knowledge of employee Owen Cronau.
The property hosted a group of about 70 growers and industry representatives at the recent Wide Bay Pineapple Field Day. It was one of three farm walks conducted as part of the two-day conference.
The Atkinsons have about 263 hectares (650 acres) and lease a neighbouring block just under that size.
The three crops allow for maximum land use with the pineapples planted in smaller paddocks not suitable for cane harvesters.
"Sugar cane after pineapples is just magic. A lot of mulch goes back into the soil," Mr Atkinson said.
At one stage he even dabbled in cotton, with a lonely cotton module maker sitting in evidence of the brief diversification plan.
Part of the reason for hosting one of the farm walks was to allow for an inspection of one of the newer pineapple varieties on the scene.
While specific details of the Queensland Department of Agriculture-bred pineapple were requested to not be released, it has been referred to as the 'pina colada' pineapple, based on its special, coconut-like flavour.
It is described as being a very clean cutting pineapple with good yellow internals boasting a consistently large fruit.
During the farm walk Favco pineapple manager Todd Parker said there were about 400,000 plants of the variety in the ground so they were still in the breeding- up stage. "We are very excited about this variety," he told the walkers.
Only a few farms are growing the new variety which is protected under plant breeders rights (PBR). Owen Cronau, who has worked on the farm, said the variety stood up well to herbicide resistance.
The maturity time from flower induction to harvest was about three weeks later than other varieties, extending the peak summer harvest into February- March-April, when other premium pineapples were in short supply.
While it could be another two or three years before they were a widespread industry favourite, Mr Atkinson has high hopes for the variety.
The Atkinsons also grow Smooth Cayennes, AusJubilees and the variety known as 73-50.
All pineapple crops are side dressed with fertiliser once they have been picked.
This is achievable with a high clearance tractor, again working on the magic 2m-centre standard.
The business runs a truck to Brisbane. In high picking periods, it takes out about a semi load a day to the market. "We try to get them there ASAP. The fresher the better," Mr Atkinson said.
In full swing, the packing shed has about six people working to fill the truck in about six to six and-a-half hours.
Queensland's pineapple production was worth $72 million to the Queensland economy in 2014-2015.
There lingering issues of concern for the pineapple industry. Fresh fruit imports from Malaysia is one that frequently pops up in farmers' conversations. But there is a solidarity among the growers as well and a willingness to back each other.
"It's not a big industry so people need to work together."