A great mind for business and innovation has allowed pineapple grower Barry Brooks to expand on the teachings of the generations before him, and travel the world sharing his knowledge.
Barry’s grandfather was growing pineapples at the turn of last century. “It was a totally different business back then. They used to grow them near a railway line and then they’d pack them and put them on a train and they’d go all the way out to Longreach. They’d do deliveries all the way.”
In 1957, Barry’s parents bought a farm and moved from northern New South Wales to Yeppoon, Queensland, after honeymooning in the town. And in his early twenties, after time away studying and working in accounting, Barry returned to the farm to help out,
“The next thing I knew I was married with children and my life had completely changed – it was pineapples all the way!”
Barry put his accounting background to good use in the family business, formulating methods to expand it and, in turn, spread risk. “Over the years we kept buying little farms around us. I was probably the first in the world to devise methods to produce pineapples 52 weeks of the year,” Barry said.
The business, now based in Bungundarra, improved further when Woolworths invited Barry to supply their stores. “We did a lot of work around quality assurance and at the time were the only pineapple farm up to the Woolworths standard.”
In 2007, Barry’s quality assurance expertise gave him the opportunity to help set up a dairy farm in Pakistan for a private company. “Since then I’ve done work in the Middle East and Africa, for World Bank, USAID, Austrade, Arabic banks and other private companies,” he said. “It’s really interesting to go to places where there are absolutely no tourists and where the people have never even seen a European, and help make a difference.”
Barry’s business is also currently working with academics to manufacture bromelain, a pineapple enzyme. The product is increasing in popularity, particularly in Germany, where it is being used in the treatment of diseases and as a natural antibiotic.
Barry said bromelain could be of particular assistance to the dairy industry, as a natural replacement for antibiotics used to treat mastitis in cows. “Infections have become a big problem. If the infection gets into the blood, no-one wants the milk, and if the cows are treated with antibiotics, the milk can’t be processed into cheese or yoghurt because the cultures can’t work. So it’s some interesting work that’s being done,” he said.
Barry’s skills are in such high demand that sometimes he struggles to spend enough time on the family farm, which he runs with twin sons Jake and Ryan, and which is still recovering from cyclone Marcia.
“People say, ‘the cyclone was nearly two years ago’, but it takes nearly two years to grow a pineapple. We lost a massive amount of crop and buildings were damaged. We’re nearly back bigger and better, but it’s cost a lot of money.”
Each year, Brooks & Sons sows between two and three million pineapple plants. “We have different varieties for different times of year, and we use the different aspects or slopes to maximise sugar levels by taking advantage of the sunlight available.”
Most of the farm’s pineapples are bought by Golden Circle, now owned by Heinz, and Barry said he is impressed with the company’s modernised business methods.
“Warren Buffet’s business model is, you look after your supplier. If we supply pineapple in its own juice, rather than heavy syrup, we get a better price, and rings are worth more than pieces. In the past it was just tonnes and it was all lumped together,” Barry said.
“They explained to us that if a product has to be stored for six months then the storage costs as much as the pineapple in the can. The product is sold immediately and there are cost savings everywhere. It’s a breath of fresh air.”
And speaking of all things fresh, Barry said that Jake’s and Ryan’s young sons are already keen to carry on the family business. “They’re already expressing their desire to be little farmers. For the good of the country and for the industry, it’s important to have people coming on – the fresh new generation.”