Article by: Hari Yellina
After lettuce, strawberries are now being sold at exorbitant costs, with a 250g punnet costing $11.99 in a Canberra store.To put it in perspective, in August of last year, the same grocer selling the costly Victorian-grown punnets was offering three for $2 on fruit. Wet weather and illness ravaged harvests at a time when the nation relied on Queensland’s winter strawberries, according to Queensland Strawberry Growers president Adrian Schultz. Mr Schultz added, “It’s unbelievable, it’s unheard of.” “To put it frankly, it would be a record, but keep in mind that these prices aren’t making farmers rich.”
Sunny Ridge in Victoria, Australia’s largest strawberry farmer, produced the punnets, which would have normally finished by now. Farmers in Victoria and Stanthorpe, on the other hand, have continued to harvest because Queensland’s prime winter growers, based around the Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg, have experienced production delays of up to a month. The hefty prices, according to Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie, are due to poor weather in key growing regions. “We have quite a large volume of supply coming out of south-east Queensland at this time of year, under typical weather circumstances, it accounts for roughly 90% of the supply,” she said.
In the summer, Ashbern Farms grows strawberries in Stanthorpe, and in the winter, they grow in the Glass House Mountains. However, co-owner Brendon Hoyle said the Sunshine Coast harvest has only recently begun, despite the fact that it generally begins in May. “With the deluge of rain that we’ve received in the cloudy and damp weather that has dominated pretty much from planting all the way through to our first flush of strawberries, it’s been a really hard start to the season,” he added. “At the present, there is no supply; all the farmers are hanging around waiting for the crop to come in.”
Other variables, he noted, such as growing manufacturing and transportation costs, were also having an impact. Mr Hoyle explained that rainy weather wasn’t the only issue strawberry growers had to deal with; plant disease was also a source of concern. “If the correct conditions exist, strawberries will succumb to a variety of fungal illnesses,” he stated. Any of the fungal concerns that we generally face take over at the start of the season, when day temps are 23 to 27 degrees and it’s quite moist, and it’s a tremendous effort to keep them under control.”
In the last year, the price of strawberries has risen and fallen dramatically. In September 2021, a 250g punnet cost $1.50. Ms Mackenzie expressed her hope that consumers in Australia would continue to support the business. “We must keep in mind that when prices are high, only a small percentage of growers receive premium prices,” she stated. “However, when prices are low, almost everyone is paid less than the cost of manufacturing. Ms Mackenzie predicted that as supply rose, prices would fall. “With the current number of plants in the ground, I expect supply to normalise very quickly, and we’ll see pricing that are similar with past years,” she added. “The northern WA producers are having a fantastic season, and they are most likely responsible for the majority of what we are seeing in stores right now.”