Far fewer strawberries are to be planted in Perth this year, after growers took an estimated $12 million hit on income last season because of the needle sabotage crisis.
WA Strawberry Growers Association spokesman Jamie Michael said the exact reduction in plantings won’t be known for a few more weeks when growers in the area start to lay plastic on the ground, ahead of plantings to start in late March.
“However a lot of growers, including ourselves, will be reducing how much we plant,” he said.
“Strawberries are an expensive crop to put into the ground — about $50,000 per hectare including plants, labour, plastic mulch and tents over the top.
“After the losses last year many growers simply won’t have the funds to plant their normal sized crops, so plantings will be substantially down.”
Mr Michael, of Ti Produce at Bullsbrook, said strawberry farms on the outskirts of Perth averaged four to eight hectares and there were about 50 growers operating in the area.
Land which is not planted to strawberries is not used for alternative crops, rather a cover crop will be put on to protect the soil from wind.
Mr Michael said confidence from consumers had started to recover after farm worker My Ut Trinh was charged in Queensland over contaminating goods with the intent to cause economic loss.
Unfortunately, there was the occasional copy cat incident still occurring, but police resolved these very quickly, Mr Michael said.
He said there were signs that export markets, including the important Middle East customer base, would be open in time for this year’s harvest in Perth, which starts about August.
Many WA growers have installed metal detectors as a food safety measure. Mr Michael said those who hadn’t installed metal detection equipment would have their strawberries scanned through a wholesaler or third party, so all product to reach shelves would go through this system.
He said all growers were grateful to the public and media for their support during the needle crisis.
Although plantings will be down this season and farmers have been financially hurt, Mr Michael said public support had prevented the situation from being far worse, and would have saved some growers from being forced out of business.
“All strawberry growers are really grateful to the public and media for all the support given during that time,” he said.
“Consumers and many different organisations really backed us, which certainly prevented the situation from being far worse.”
Source – https://thewest.com.au