$1 million to help farmers
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.