Restor­ing con­fi­dence vi­tal

Straw­berry cam­paign a sweet start to sum­mer

The Western Star - - RURAL WEEKLY - Matthew Purcell

SPIRIT and fight has helped sal­vage the Queens­land straw­berry in­dus­try from ruin, ac­cord­ing to one of its lead­ing grow­ers.

State Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Mark Furner was on the Gran­ite Belt last week, where he was on hand to help launch the start of the sum­mer straw­berry sea­son.

Mr Furner vis­ited Ap­plethorpe’s Eastern Colour, where he also talked up a new $600,000 gov­ern­ment-funded “con­fi­dence” cam­paign.

“I’m telling Queens­lan­ders to get out there and sup­port your Queens­land farm­ers. Make sure you get out there in your stores and sup­port Queens­land straw­ber­ries,” the min­is­ter said.

The cam­paign, part of the Palaszczuk Gov­ern­ment’s $1 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion, aims to bring con­sumer con­fi­dence back to the prod­uct.

“It en­tails a pro­mo­tional pro­gram mak­ing sure peo­ple are aware it’s a great, sweet, fresh, clean, green pro­duce and make sure you con­tinue to eat straw­ber­ries.”

Mr Furner said “sin­is­ter” acts had brought the in­dus­try to its knees, how­ever po­lice had re­duced their in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult trace to fol­low through the sup­ply chain and at this point in time we’re not any closer to find­ing out who might have been in­volved in that.

“It has been scaled down be­cause of other pres­sures and other needs,” he said.

For Eastern Colour owner Nathan Ba­ro­nio, they’ve turned fo­cus from the bad to the good and want to en­sure a stel­lar sea­son is forth­com­ing.

“We’ve got a huge, amaz­ing sea­son com­ing and we’re ready to pro­vide beau­ti­ful straw­ber­ries to ev­ery­one in Queens­land ready for Christ­mas.

“I’d like to give a huge thank you to the com­mu­nity be­cause it was a team ef­fort to re­ally bring the sit­u­a­tion to fo­cus back on pos­i­tiv­ity.

“The fight­ing spirit of Queens­lan­ders and Aus­tralians … it was re­ally amaz­ing.

“(It was) stress­ful. We were just at the foot­step of our new sea­son and we didn’t know where it was go­ing to lead.

“I think that the key was we got to­gether as gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try and re­alised it was good pro­duce and it’s about sell­ing good, safe, beau­ti­ful straw­ber­ries to ev­ery­one,” he said.

Queens­land Straw­berry Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Luigi Coco said the true cost of the tam­per­ing scan­dal wouldn’t be fully known for an­other 12 months.

“At the time of the ini­tial in­ci­dent, the in­dus­try was pro­duc­ing over 800,000 pun­nets a day and that came to a stand­still over a few is­sues that weren’t man­aged cor­rectly.

“A lot, un­for­tu­nately, was so­cial me­dia.

“The in­dus­try is re­cov­er­ing now, good sales, it’s mov­ing, but it needs to stay there. The full re­cov­ery will be this time next year when we go through the win­ter sea­son,” he said.

With the sup­port of the gov­ern­ment, the as­so­ci­a­tion will un­der­take an­other large-scale ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign next year in the lead-in to the win­ter straw­berry sea­son.

“It’s one thing putting up with the weather, but when it’s out of the grow­ers’ con­trol like this has been, that’s when it hurts most,” Mr Coco said.

PHOTO: MATTHEW PURCELL

BOUNC­ING BACK: Luigi Coco, pres­i­dent of the QSGA, South­ern Downs Mayor Tracy Do­bie, Queens­land's Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture Mark Furner with Eastern Colour's Amelie Gesch and Nathan Ba­ro­nio.

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