Perth’s strawberry growers look set to receive higher prices for their fruit this year. The reason a national shortage is looming, driven by lower plantings and drought conditions on the east coast.
Plantings for growers in the Perth strawberry area are estimated to be 25 per cent down on recent years, based on aerial surveys of the black plastic mulch laid in preparation.
Growers have had a spate of major bad luck, including the needle contamination crisis last year, and the 2017 incursion of the tomato potato psyllid which closed off Eastern States markets. The financial strain has meant many local growers had been forced to wind back this year’s plantings, which cost about $50,000 a hectare, including runners, labour, plastic mulch and protective plastic tunnels.
Compounding the reduced plantings is a major squeeze on the number of seedlings available because of dry conditions in Queensland and Victoria, where major runner nurseries are based.
Other States had also had trouble accessing runners, including Queensland where some big growers have reportedly received only half the number needed. Queensland farmers produce about 42 per cent of Australia’s strawberries.
WA Strawberry Growers Association spokesman Jamie Michael said the combination of factors meant there would likely be fewer strawberries produced Australia-wide this year, but the lower supply should lead to better prices for growers: “There is unlikely to be the dirt-cheap prices that shoppers have seen in recent years, but they still will be reasonable and affordable for consumers. I expect instead of offers such as three or four punnets for $5, prices will be in the vicinity of two punnets for $5. Importantly, the wholesale price paid to growers will be better.”
Thewest.com.au recalls how Perth growers took about a $12 million hit because of the needle contamination crisis, which emerged in September in the peak of their harvest. The losses would have been bigger but there was huge support from consumers who rallied behind the industry.