Sour note for strawberries
An increase in plantings and the adoption of earlier-finishing varieties in WA are pushing down prices received by the State's strawberry producers.
Strawberry Growers Association of WA president Jamie Michael said there was an oversupply of strawberries, resulting in low farm gate prices.
"The wholesale price for good quality strawberries can be as low as 70 cents per punnet at the moment, which is almost half the cost of production," he said.
"There are a lot of growers finding it very tough."
A key reason for the oversupply is a clash between the traditionally staggered peak harvests in WA and Queensland.
Peak production in Queensland typically occurs during August and September, with WA's peak running from October through to November.
This year however, the Queensland harvest is running about 10 days late because of weather conditions.
Meanwhile, the adoption of earlier varieties by WA growers had led to the local picking season being brought forward.
"This means, the heavy crop on the east coast is being doubled up on by WA, and this abundant supply is diminishing returns," said Mr Michael, who runs Ti Produce Marketing with his wife Lam Ti Mur, with farms at Wanneroo and Bullsbrook.
Both Queensland and WA market to the Eastern States, which sets the prices nationally.
Further exacerbating the price pressure is the fact strawberry plantings have increased in both WA and the east coast.
Mr Michael estimated WA land planted to strawberries had increased by 10 to 15 per cent annually in recent years, while in Queensland this had almost doubled.
He said although the adoption of earlier varieties by WA growers had contributed to the clash in production, it still made sense for these growers to extend their production window.
"If weather conditions in any given year mean a reduction in the Queensland crop, then WA producers can make very good money from having earlier varieties, and that makes it all worthwhile," he said.
Prices should start to recover toward late September.
Although it will still be peak season for WA producers, production in Queensland will start to slow.
However, the Victorian crop harvest starts toward the tail end of the WA's peak production time, so this could also influence returns later in the year.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, WA has about 170ha of commercial strawberry production with most of it located in the east Wanneroo, Carabooda and Bullsbrook areas.
Annual production totals about 45 million 250g punnets or 11,250 tonnes.
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