Southern Fields’ major crop is lettuce; Ben & Amy, with a diverse workforce of around twenty, grow over two million lettuce per year, supplying all the whole lettuce for Woolworths in Tasmania. They also grow cauliflower (around 300,000 each season) in the colder months, a strategy which reduces pest problems, as most insects that enjoy brassicas are most active in the warmer months. All the lettuce and cauliflowers are cut by hand by the cutting crew, before being packed in the field with a harvest aide; the crops are planted in straight rows at uniform distances apart to allow the wheels of the aide to pass through the planting without rolling over any of the produce. Each week the plantings are harvested three times – to allow smaller heads to reach size – and then replaced with new plantings in a rotational process to ensure continuous supply.
Ben comes from farming stock – his dad and uncle started the Tasmanian cut salad giant Houston’s Farm (which by the way is correctly pronounced “who”-stons, not “hyou-stons”!), and the generation before that were Irish immigrants who ran a local egg farm. Ben & Amy started their farm at Grove, in the Huon valley, eight years ago, but found the conditions weren’t ideal for growing lettuce, so moved to a leased property at Forcett, and following this they moved to a larger nearby property as their business grew. (The Houston family were also instrumental in lobbying for the Sorrell irrigation scheme, which has facilitated the growth of agriculture in the area which has rich soils suitable for farming.)