First it was lettuce, now strawberries are selling for staggering prices, with a supermarket in Canberra charging $11.99 for a 250g tub.
To put it in perspective, the same supermarket that sold the expensive Victorian-era punnets gave three discounts on fruit for $2 last August.
Queensland Strawberry Grower president Adrian Schultz said prices would remain high as wet weather and disease had decimated crops at a time when the nation was dependent on Queensland’s winter strawberries.
“To put it bluntly, it would be a record, but the thing to remember is that these prices don’t make farmers rich.”
The punnets were produced by Australia’s largest strawberry grower, Sunny Ridge in Victoria, which would normally have ended the season by now.
But growers in Victoria and Stanthorpe have continued to harvest as production from peak growers in the winter, around the Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg, has been delayed by up to a month.
Berries Australia Executive Director Rachel Mackenzie said bad weather in key growing regions was the cause of the steep prices.
Ashbern Farms supplies strawberries year round by growing in Stanthorpe in the summer and in the Glass House Mountains in the winter.
But co-owner Brendon Hoyle said the Sunshine Coast’s harvest has only just begun, when it would normally start in May.
“It has been a very difficult start to the season with the torrent of rain we have experienced in the cloudy and wet weather, which has dominated pretty much from planting to our first blush of strawberries,” he said.
He said other factors, such as rising production and transportation costs, were also influencing.
Disease hinders harvest
Mr Hoyle said wet weather was not the only headwind that strawberry growers faced, and plant diseases also cause headaches.
[At] At the start of the season, when the daytime temperatures are 23 to 27 and it’s extremely wet, all the fungal problems we normally experience take over and it’s just a real struggle to try and keep them under control.”
Strawberries have seen incredible price swings in the past 12 months.
A 250g tray was $1.50 in September 2021†
Ms Mackenzie said she hoped Australian consumers would continue to support the industry.
“We have to remember that when prices are high, only a very small number of growers get those premium prices,” she said.
It won’t last forever
Ms Mackenzie said prices would drop once supply increased.
“The Northern growers in WA are definitely having a great season and are probably responsible for most of what we’re seeing in stores right now.”
Posted † updated
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