Strawberry growers on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast say imported berries have taken away the market for their seconds, meaning lower grade fruit is literally being thrown in the bin.
Amanda Schultz, who farms strawberries at Wamuran north of Brisbane, said she went to great lengths to limit waste, despite the lack of buyers.
“The non-edible strawberries get put in a bin or disposed of, or some local ladies come through and take it and make jam out of it,” she said.
“But the amount of fruit that they take versus what we throw out is a significant difference.”
The problem, however, was that it was cheaper for fruit processors to use imported strawberries, rather than the seconds grown locally.
“When we started to look at value-added things to do with our berries, I got disheartened very quickly,” Ms Schultz said.
“People who once used to buy Queensland strawberries for going into smoothies or other products said it was cheaper to buy them from China, all for the sake of saving $1 a box,” she said.
“So that market for the Queensland strawberry growers was lost several years ago.”
It means millions of dollars worth of strawberries grown in the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay districts are thrown out each year.
George Him, who farms berries at Caboolture, said one third of his produce went to waste each year.
PHOTO: Caboolture strawberry farmer George Him (Marty McCarthy)
“They’re either waste strawberries, or it’s not economical to pick them, so you just walk away from it” he said.
Mr Him said he had also struggled to find a market for his seconds.
“Of course I have tried, but it always comes back to our prices being too dear and it’s cheaper from overseas. That’s the answer they [processors] give us,” he said.
The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association met with 50 farmers on Wednesday to brainstorm a zero waste project, where no strawberry grown on the Sunshine Coast is thrown out.
QSGA industry development officer, Jennifer Rowling, said the industry was exploring a number of options to address the issue.
“There are standard ideas like producing jams and purees, but we also talked about the opportunities of having processing centres in the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay regions,” she said.
“Councils are very supporting of those initiatives, which is fantastic, and it’s something we have to look at.
“We also looked at things like animal food and using it to feed dairy cattle and pigs.”
Ms Schultz said a simple solution would be to make a value added product, such as ice cream or jam, using the region’s waste strawberries and to market the product in a way that promoted Sunshine Coast agriculture and food.
However, she said making that a reality was far more difficult, and could require a local processing plant to be built.
“It would take a lot of logistical planning, because you’ve got growers spread out all over the place and you’d need certain field types and hygienic transportation of the fruit,” she said.
“It would need to be processed rather quickly, otherwise it would go rotten.
“If they can sort out the logistics of doing that, and It’s not hard to process strawberries, I think it’s a fantastic idea as long as they can make it happen.”