Marion Regan presents an international outlook at BerryQuest

From Australia’s food bowl of Tasmania, to the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of Kent in England, Hugh Lowe Farms is the largest independent berry grower in Britain.

Managing director Marion Regan shared insights from an international perspective at BerryQuest International 2018, to complement Simon Dornauf’s overview of the Australian berry industry.

Ms Regan touched on growing techniques and berry marketing in her presentation at the conference in Launceston.

Hugh Lowe Farms uses a range of strawberry, raspberry and blackberry plant types, grown by specialist propagators, to ensure success.

“The start in life is such a crucial part of a plant’s life. We use misted tips, heated misted tips, tray plants, cold-stored berry plants of various sizes and various pre-treatments,” Ms Regan said.

Raspberry growers also use long canes and module-grown tray plants, but blackberries get special attention.

“With strawberries and raspberries, we are growing from April until November, because we also have five hectares of glass for shoulders of the season,” she said.

“We do blackberries completely under glass because we’re trying to hit the premium markets. Driscoll’s Victorian [blackberry] is really a step up.

“We’re marketing it as a premium super-sweet blackberry. All the other blackberries are tangy,” Ms Regan said.

On the topic of berry promotion, Hugh Lowe Farms is a founding member of the Berry Gardens grower-owned marketing cooperative, which was founded more than 40 years ago.

“When you consider it started its life in a shoe box file in my parent’s dining room in 1973 and it’s now a £340 million turnover company.”

Berry Gardens cooperative has growers all around Britain – Scotland, Staffordshire, Herfordshire, Worcester and Kent – and overseas partners to “maintain the Berry Gardens’ market presence throughout the winter months”.

“As a berry grower, we’re all very close to our product. Everybody has an opinion about berries; everybody wants to talk to you about them,” Ms Regan said.

“I love being close to the marketing and I want to own or influence as much of the value chain from us and the consumer.”

The cooperative has an exclusive relationship with Driscoll’s, which dates back more than 20 years.

“That means we can grow Driscoll’s varieties exclusively throughout the UK and import from Driscoll’s partners around the world. It means we have a good market share,” Ms Regan said.