The glut may be great news for strawberry lovers, but growers are counting the cost.
On Friday, Wamuran grower Mandy Schultz received a phone call from a wholesale agent to say he was not accepting anything but extra-large strawberries.
She walked through her family’s packing shed that night, filming the trays of rejected sweet, small fruit that had been emptied into drums for disposal.
The dietitian launched her own waste-fighting program last year.
Titled LuvaBerry’s Our War on Waste, it saw Ms Schultz and her team freezing and freeze-drying excess fruit, that she then sold at scheduled meets in carparks.
But this time, on Friday, the freezers were already full.
“We are a farm that makes a really big effort with our waste, so what about the waste from the farms that don’t have anything in place?” Ms Schultz said.
Farm’s first open day helps address glut
On Sunday Ms Schultz welcomed more than 100 visitors to the farm’s first open day.
Families did their bit to eat excess fruit, picking assorted sizes of strawberries for $10 per kilogram.
Matt Garratt drove up from Brisbane to support the farm’s war on waste and expressed his surprise that size could be such an issue.
“I actually personally quite like small strawberries, I like them better than the large ones, so that’s a bit frustrating,” he said.
Mandy’s husband Adrian Schultz is the vice-president of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association and revealed that while production peaks are an annual event, gluts have been exacerbated by larger plantings.
Highly productive new varieties of strawberries that fruit earlier in the season have also impacted profits.
“A lot of growers are feeling the pressure at this time of year, we’d be lucky at the moment to get between $3–4 a kilo,” Mr Schultz said.
The family has spread the risk by diversifying into finger limes and herbs.
“Luckily this year we’ve had a typical Queensland winter where it’s actually been a bit cooler and that has helped keep strawberry production down and help with the prices,” Mr Schultz said.
He said farmers have welcomed a return to colder temperatures this week after three straight days of 28 degrees sparked the glut.
A Coles supermarket spokesperson estimated that Australians consume more than 40 million kgs of strawberries every year.
Both Coles and Aldi sell ‘smoothie packs’ of seconds strawberries.
With margins getting tighter, larger operations have expanded geographically, to supply strawberries year round.
Piñata Farms grows a variety of fruits at six locations in Australia, including Wamuran, and is planning to add a seventh farm in Tasmania.
Managing director, Gavin Scurr said that rising temperatures have taken a toll on Queensland’s heat sensitive strawberry crops.
“We currently grow strawberries and raspberries in Stanthorpe and are now looking at Tasmania as a potential site, it’s a milder climate through that true summer period,” Mr Scurr said.
“We won’t get into a debate of what’s causing the climate change but it certainly is changing and berries, being more sensitive, are being impacted more than our other lines in pineapples and mangoes.”
Around 150 Queensland growers supply the bulk of Australia’s strawberries over the winter season, running from May to October each year.