A “perfect storm” has meant one of the region’s best strawberry growing seasons has been matched with low prices.
And it’s not too late to stock up and support farmers, with Food and Agribusiness Network (FAN) CEO Emma Greenhatch urging shoppers to keep buying or risk losing the local industry.
“When there is a high supply, prices tend to drop; that’s a sign you need to buy them more than ever,” she says. “If we’re not supporting and buying when they’re
in season, it’s the difference between a grower replanting for next year or going out of business. It’s people’s livelihoods. If we want a viable food and agriculture industry, we need to support locals.”
Across Queensland, strawberry prices in major supermarkets have been sitting at about $1.50 a punnet, sometimes as low as 99 cents. “It’s a perfect storm in terms of growers experiencing a labour shortage and COVID impacting hospitality purchases, mixed with a good growing season,” Ms Greenhatch says.
The Sunshine Coast is home to many growers. They have also been hit by a COVID-induced labour shortage and a hike in labour costs, resulting in farmers losing about 50 cents per punnet.
Queensland Strawberry Growers Association president Adrian Schultz says farmers had been so focused on trying to find pickers ahead of the season they were “blindsided” by the worst impact of the COVID lockdowns. He says many farmers are losing so much money now they cannot even afford to pick the fruit and will have to kill their plants.
“We weren’t expecting this because no one had really thought about it,” he says. “We’ve been so focused on our labour issues this year that we’ve not taken into account fruit and vegie shops, cafes, cake shops, bakeries, dessert places, juice bars that would normally be buying aren’t, so
we have this artificially built-up supply of strawberries.”
Ms Greenhatch suggests residents put a few extra strawberry punnets in the trolley and stock up the freezer ready for summer and says thanks to ideal growing conditions the fruit is “delicious”.
“For consumers, strawberries freeze very well and can be pureed up and frozen or just frozen whole to add to smoothies or desserts,” Ms Greenhatch says. “Don’t just buy one punnet, buy as many as you can fit in your freezer, or give the gift of a strawberry to someone else – they are a very happy fruit.”
FAN champions the message of purchasing in-season, local produce and Ms Greenhatch says shoppers should look at where products have come from, and that prices will often reflect supply.
“Whether at the farmers markets, local fruit shops or supermarkets, it’s not that hard to support local. In our region, we are very lucky we grow so much, and we need to back our local growers.
“Have a look at where [products] are from. For example, grapes are not in season and I saw some the other day in the supermarket and saw they were from overseas.
“Usually, low prices mean high supply also, so if you see low prices stock up.”
In Queensland, strawberry season runs from May to October, with southern regions supplying produce for the summer months.
did you know?
Eating eight strawberries a day has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve memory and heart health.
Sunshine Coast author and cooking celebrity Kim McCosker says it’s not too late to support farmers and enjoy the end-of-season strawberries.
“They are seasonal right now, they are economical, they are being picked in surrounding suburbs and they are incredibly versatile,” she says. “So do your heart and health a favour and support our local strawberry farmers at the same time.”
Kim’s strawberry nice-cream
- 300g strawberries, frozen
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
Blend altogether and serve as a deliciously creamy soft-serve or freeze for at least three hours for a deliciously creamy, firm ice-cream. Top with a strawberry to serve.
“When it came to storing strawberries, moisture seems to be the biggest enemy. You want to make sure your berries are completely dry before placing them in
the fridge, so I suggest holding off on washing them until you’re ready to eat them or thoroughly drying them first. If you’re pressed for time, simply storing strawberries in their original container is fine, but make sure you discard any that are on the brink of spoiling, as this will help extend their shelf life too.”