Spoilt for strawberry choice ruining lush fruit industry
JUICY, plump and deep red - Queensland strawberries are in over-supply and practically being given away.
While the spring favourite fruit is flying off grocer shelves for $1.50 a punnet, the cheap prices and high quality come at a price for the industry.
Unpredictably warm winter temperatures are ripening strawberries early and a surplus of plants in the ground across the state mean there are more strawberries than the consumer can eat.
It's good news for strawberry lovers but farmers are selling their produce at or below cost.
Queensland Strawberry Growers Association vice-president Adrian Schultz said if there wasn't an early spring cold snap, prices would stay low and the over-supply would continue.
He said the peak strawberry period was traditionally in September but it had come early this year and was likely to hold until the weather changed.
"It's a combination of a number of things, the warm weather brings the berries on faster but it also creates smaller fruit which is harder to sell. A high percentage of the crop we can't sell because the consumer wants the big fat strawberry," he said.
"It means we are throwing away a large percentage of the crop that has nothing wrong with it at all.
"It's a situation where there are too many strawberries in the ground which leads to an oversupply."
The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association is working with farmers to develop a healthy Queensland strawberry export market which would ease pressure on the domestic supply and return prices to a profitable margin.
Mr Schultz said he was paid less for a strawberry this season than he was a decade ago but production costs had increased 500% in the same period.
"The consumer is getting a good quality product at a very good price so we can only encourage people to go out and get more," he said.
War on waste
FOR every plump, ripe and perfect strawberry that comes off a plant, waste berries are left for the pigs, chickens and bin.
It's a situation LuvaBerry's Mandy Schultz is trying to avoid in commanding the War on Waste.
The War on Waste was developed to find a use for the small, second grade strawberries that the regular consumer rejects and would otherwise be thrown away.
The group encourages consumers to look past minor strawberry defects and use seconds fruit for jams, preserves, ice cream, yoghurt and even make into in a strawberry powder.
Waste berries are frozen and sold per kilogram to use in all sorts of recipes as cooking berries.
"We just can't afford the type of waste," she said.
"Farmers still need to pay pickers to collect waste fruit but it has the potential to be frozen and used."
Mrs Schultz said the strawberry industry had lost the ability to sell seconds fruit as a saturated market and over-supply had spoilt consumers with perfect product.
"The volume of waste that is happening is not imperfect, they can still be used," she said.
"Unfortunately when it rains the strawberries get damaged and are no longer viable for shelf life.
"Usually we throw away tonnes of edible fruit each year. So this year we have decided to create "cooking berries", an alternative to foreign imported frozen strawberries available in the supermarket."
To get involved see LovaBerry War on Waste on Facebook.
Strawberry and banana smoothies
- 250g strawberries, hulled, washed
- Two overripe bananas, coarsely chopped
- 750ml milk
- 260g vanilla-flavoured yoghurt
Place half the strawberries, banana, milk and yoghurt in the jug of a blender and blend until smooth. Pour evenly among three serving glasses.