Strict program delivers WA’s top strawberries (DOWNUNDER)

Strict program delivers WA’s top strawberries

WESTERN Australian grower Chi Lieu is renowned for producing some of the best strawberries in the State and he puts this success down to a stringent watering, fertilising and monitoring program.

Chi grows tomatoes and strawberries over about 12 hectares at Neerabup, north of Perth. Strawberries have been one of his main crops for 25-30 years, while he also previously grew export vegetables, including Chinese cabbage.

Chi arrived in Australia from Vietnam in 1979 and was earlier involved in a share-farming arrangement. He sells his produce through the Canning Vale Markets.

Pioneering the Future

"The quality of our strawberries is the best in WA – a lot of buyers come to ask to buy our strawberries,’’ Chi said.

He said strict watering, fertilising and monitoring had helped to reduce input costs by about 30 per cent while increasing yields by around 10pc and improving produce quality on the property.

“We previously ran a spreader between the plants to fertilise and watered through overhead reticulation.’’

“We now drip irrigate and this means we don’t waste water and we don’t waste fertiliser around or underneath the plants.

“Overhead watering also helped the weeds grow and caused more disease due to the wet leaves, allowing fungi to grow.

“This is where there was an immediate benefi t in the quality, especially with the strawberries, from the reduced disease.

“We still do a little bit of overhead watering when plants are young to keep them cool, but then we stop it.

’’ Chi uses A and B tanks to effectively fertigate crops with a mix of nutrients through the drip system and he said high quality fertilisers were critical to the process.

He said this was why he relied on Haifa’s Multi-K for the important supply of potassium nitrate, delivered through local agent, Mirco Bros.

“The Multi-K fertiliser is very good in water.’’

“Some other product made in China also can go very hard in the bag.’’

Chi uses his own unique fertiliser blend for his strawberry crops.

“You have to be very careful with the fertiliser mix for strawberries to get the right quality of fruit and sugar levels,’’ he said.

“I mix up my own to bring the levels up to what I want.’’

Sap testing is performed through a specialist laboratory in Queensland every two weeks during production and then Chi adjusts his fertiliser blend according to the test results to meet the desired quality.

John Jambanis at Mirco Bros assists with the Lieu’s fertiliser requirements.

Watering through the drip irrigation system also is closely monitored.

“We wet only down to about 40 centimetres from the top (of the soil), otherwise we waste water and fertiliser,’’ Chi said.

“During summer the system can be watering for 1 hour in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon every day. Recently we were down to about 0.5hr of watering. In September-October we will increase this by about 15 minutes and in November-December it will increase again.”