Getting behind strawberry growers

By Alana Christensen

Strawberry producers struggling to sell produce in the wake of a number of contamination scares are receiving a helping hand from a Shepparton greengrocer.

Ryan’s Fruit and Veg owner Ryan Curtis, who has bought strawberries at cost from his supplier, has pledged to return all funds from the sale of 99¢ punnets at the High St business back to his supplier as they deal with the fallout from the discovery of pins and needles in a number of strawberries across the country.

‘‘No-one was buying the strawberries at market and our supplier has been severely affected,’’ Mr Curtis said.

‘‘There was already an oversupply so they were getting low prices and then this happened.’’

After hearing of the struggle of suppliers, Mr Curtis said he was more than happy to lend a hand.

‘‘We’ll try and return whatever we can,’’ he said.

‘‘Even if it’s just a few thousand, hopefully it makes a difference.’’

He encouraged consumers to continue to buy strawberries and support local growers.

The scare, which has seen a number of brands pulled from the shelves, has left many consumers cautious about purchasing the fruit and seen many prices slashed across the country.

The situation has led to some producers investing in metal detectors to try and ensure their produce can be sold.

Queensland Glass House Mountains farmer Leonard Smith said the safety measure would cost him about $30000, but would hopefully get the rest of this season’s fruit back on supermarket shelves.

However, he said there was no guarantee it would work if the contamination was occurring off-site.

Mr Smith’s farm was forced to burn off 500000 unsellable plants on the weekend because it was cheaper to kill them than pick them.

South Australian producers are sourcing X-ray machines to check fruit there, while other growers have had to cut back on staff while the impact of the nationwide contamination deepens.

Sewing needles have been found in strawberries in all six states, with New Zealand announcing last week it would pull the Australian-grown fruit from its supermarket shelves.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last Wednesday announced urgent and harsh new commonwealth criminal penalties for contaminating food.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has promised to stand shoulder to shoulder with farmers.

‘‘This is a disgusting act designed to instil fear in consumers and to undermine our agricultural industry,’’ she told parliament.

A health warning to throw out or cut up strawberries remains in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia.

Police are continuing to investigate the situation, with strawberries from Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook Berries recalled nationwide.