$1 mil­lion to help farm­ers

Central and North Rural Weekly - - STRAW­BERRY SAGA - Ben Graham news@ru­ral­weekly.com

THE Queens­land Pre­mier has set up a $1 mil­lion fund to help farm­ers strug­gling with the straw­berry nee­dle cri­sis.

An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk an­nounced the fund this week and said the money would be used to pro­mote Queens­land straw­ber­ries, to in­ves­ti­gate how to im­prove trace­abil­ity and in­tegrity in the sup­ply chain and to help grow­ers for the re­main­der of this sea­son.

“This past week, Queens­land has been the vic­tim of an ugly, cal­cu­lated and de­spi­ca­ble crime,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“The sab­o­tage of our straw­berry in­dus­try is not just an at­tack on hard-work­ing grow­ers and work­ers, but it reaches into al­most ev­ery home and school lunch­box.”

There are ap­prox­i­mately 150 straw­berry grow­ers in Queens­land, with most pro­duc­tion around Day­boro, Beer­wah, Wa­mu­ran, Elim­bah, Ca­bool­ture, Stan­thorpe and Bund­aberg.

The value of Queens­land straw­ber­ries for 2017-18 is fore­cast to be $160 mil­lion.

Grow­ers pro­duce 6000 to 15,000 tonnes of fruit per sea­son – up to 60 mil­lion pun­nets of straw­ber­ries.

“Straw­berry farm­ers say their banks have al­ready been on the phone to them,” the Pre­mier said.

“I urge those banks to act re­spon­si­bly and with com­pas­sion.”

Ms Palaszczuk re­minded Queens­lan­ders to cut up any straw­ber­ries be­fore con­sump­tion.

“This fund­ing boost for grow­ers fol­lows my gov­ern­ment’s ap­proval of a $100,000 re­ward from the Queens­land Po­lice Ser­vice for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to an ar­rest,” she said.

“I call on any­one with in­for­ma­tion on the cul­prits to come for­ward – think what da­m­age could have been done if a tod­dler had been handed a piece of con­tam­i­nated fruit.”

The straw­berry con­tam­i­na­tion scare has now spread the length of the coun­try, with au­thor­i­ties in Western Aus­tralia con­firm­ing the state’s first case.

A mem­ber of the pub­lic went to York Po­lice Sta­tion, west of Perth, to re­port the dis­cov­ery on Mon­day af­ter­noon.

The man told po­lice he spot­ted a nee­dle in his kitchen sink af­ter pre­par­ing straw­ber­ries for his fam­ily.

The straw­ber­ries in ques­tion were “pro­duced and pack­aged in Western Aus­tralia”, the spokesman said, al­though the brand has not yet been re­leased.

Grow­ers are work­ing hard to get the fruit back on su­per­mar­ket shelves with some sup­pli­ers tak­ing the dras­tic mea­sure of in­stalling metal de­tec­tors on their con­veyor belts.

In WA, a sup­plier that puts around one-third of the state’s straw­ber­ries onto the shelves of Coles, Wool­worths, Aldi and IGA has forked out tens of thou­sands of dol­lars on a metal de­tec­tor.

Can­ning Vale mar­ket agent All­states Farms paid $30,000 for the de­vice, which lo­cal farm­ers hope will help the crip­pled in­dus­try.

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