Tomatoes best at room temperature

FARMERS OF THE YEAR: Bowen tomato growers Wayne and Leanne Born won Horticultural Grower of the Year at the Australian Farmer of the Year awards.
FARMERS OF THE YEAR: Bowen tomato growers Wayne and Leanne Born won Horticultural Grower of the Year at the Australian Farmer of the Year awards. Contributed

NEVER eat tomatoes cold.

That's the tip from tomato growers Wayne and Leanne Born, who own and operate their 270-hectare property on their Koorelah Farms at Bowen.

"Keep the tomatoes out of the fridge and sit them on the kitchen bench and wait for them to be full in colour - that is when you get the best flavour," Mr Born said.

"I can make a mean Bruschetta," Mrs Born said.

"We always give a lot of our tomatoes to a local business that makes semi-dried tomatoes in the olive oil and garlic."

The couple, who took over Mrs Born's family business in 1996, have won the Horticultural Grower of the Year award for their early adoption of cutting-edge technology to advance tomato production.

The award was part of the Australian Farmer of the Year awards, which were held in Melbourne.

The couple said their location in the sunny Whitsunday region was a great advantage because the farm had a good underground water supply and fertile soil.

However, they have made significant investments in capital infrastructure and technology and were the first pack house in Australia to invest in computerised colour grading and sorting technology in 1991.

This was the start of a technological transformation on the farm, which has allowed the couple to harvest a larger quantity of quality tomatoes with minimal wastage.

"We have continued to invest in a number of innovative, cutting-edge technologies - including a blemish sorter and grader - into our operation in 2011," Mrs Born said.

"This technology has increased the mechanisation in sorting processes and improves efficiencies to provide a consistent quality product to our customers.

"Our cooling facilities are state-of-the-art and the preservation of the cool chain is imperative to supply a good quality product."

The pair said they were also committed to trialling new varieties and related products, such as a biodegradable mulch, which Mrs Born said was more environmentally friendly.

Coles' merchandise director John Durkan said Wayne and Leanne represented all that was good about Australian farming.

"Their passion for product, environmental stewardship of the land and leadership of their local growing community really impressed the judges," he said.

"In a difficult market, Koorelah Farms has faced into the headwinds by understanding their customers, developing new innovations and creating a sustainable business with a focus on the future."

Mrs Born said they had a staff of 180 people and it was their great employees who had made the technological advancements on their farm an easier transition.

Some of the advancements the Borns have adopted to ensure future production on their farm include trickle irrigation and sediment trapping to prevent run-off into the Great Barrier Reef, a bugs for bugs program to eradicate tomato yellow curl leaf disease and cover crop planting at the end of each season to protect soil and improve its structure.

Ms Born said while they had been implementing positive changes to their farm, there had also been some tough times in tomatoes.

"About three years ago, we had the worst year we ever experienced. And for two years in a row, we suffered large losses.

"It was a difficult decision to keep on going," she said.

Mr Born said the weather was the reason customers had experienced higher prices of tomatoes in the supermarkets.

He said it wasn't that they didn't have enough; it was the rain in the early months of the past couple of years that had destroyed plants, along with the colder winter this year.

"We don't have control over the weather but we do have control over doing the right thing when it comes to spraying, fertilisers, planting and packing them," Mr Born said.

"During this time of year, we were normally in the shed for 12 hours a day sorting through the tomatoes. These days, we are in there half that time.

"But we haven't planted anything different," he said.

Mrs Born said there was no such thing as a perfect tomato.

"There is always a different way to grow tomatoes, different trials and hybrids of tomatoes.

"We didn't really expect to win but what makes it special is that this business has been built through our family," she said.

Topics:  farmer of the year fruit and vegetables healthy eating horticulture tomatoes