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About 20 per cent of growers left industry following the needle tampering

Strawberry farmers place hopes on new harvest after needle tampering disaster

The West Australian strawberry harvest is getting underway and farmers are appealing to consumers to continue their support after a disastrous year where needles threw a monkey wrench in the entire season.

For strawberry growers like Jamie Michael from Bullsbrook, near Perth, the past few years in strawberries have been ones to forget.
"Last year was a disaster," he said.

Needle tampering in punnets of strawberries across the country closed export markets and pushed prices below the cost of production. "These are the challenges that face us, unfortunately it was quite an unnecessary one, but we've tried to remain positive and look ahead," Mr Michael said.

These needles in the strawberries were the blow for some in an industry that had already conquered market closures die to green snail and tomato potato psyllid problems in 2016 and 2017.

WA Strawberry Growers Association president Neil Handasyde said about 20 per cent of growers left the industry following the needle tampering incidents.

"There were three disasters in three different seasons, and that incident was the final straw for some growers and they've taken the opportunity not to invest and grow again," he said. "It's a big capital investment each year, it's a bit hard to know whether some of the bigger growers have planted in their place, but there are certainly figures around that say it has reduced by 20 per cent."

Berries Australia recovery officer Jennifer Rowling said growers had left the industry nationally. "The strawberry tampering incident was an incredibly difficult time for growers, there were growers who had to finish up early and some who have left the industry," she said. "But there's one thing about farmers, they're incredibly resilient. "We're looking forward to a really good season."

Mr Handasyde said many more growers would have left the industry if not for the support from the public last year, such as the #smashastrawb social media campaign.

"Customers have been fantastic for us, they've supported us right through that crisis and have continued to, so it's the same message — thanks and keep buying," he said.

As farmers harvest this season's crop, they are hoping to enjoy a sweeter and more successful harvest. "It's been really positive so far. Strawberries are in their prime; they're nice and red and big," Mr Handasyde said. "All fingers and toes crossed for a nice, quiet, incident-free season."

Mr Handasyde said growers' security and protective measures put in place after needles appeared in fruit would remain in place, and consumers could continue to cut up fruit if desired.

Source: abc.net.au


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