Aussie produce industry sets ambitious goals for s … You might also be interested in Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has echoed calls from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging people to eat more (carefully cut) strawberries, and some growers are already noticing a shift in consumer sentiment. Unlike health scares relating to foodborne diseases caused by bacteria, this sinister case of needles stuck in strawberries is unprecedented in Australia. Palaszczuk claims there are 100 police who have been working “day and night” in search of the source of the problem, which has been formally connected to three brands – Donnybrook, Berry Licious and Berry Obsession – and has led to a string of copycat cases across the country.These copycats have also used the idea in other fruits like bananas, apples and mangoes. But grower organisations want to keep low profiles on the issue and get on with business; for now such cases have been isolated and it appears any effects on sales have been negligible. The same cannot be said for strawberries though. Sales have been hammered and many growers have been forced to cease harvesting on certain blocks, but efforts from government and the community have not gone unnoticed by producers or the public. The Queensland Premier held a press conference today (Friday) on the property of grower Piñata Farms, which incidentally had already installed metal detectors prior to the crisis but for a very different motive; stray rocks, not sewing pins.”I’m asking all Queenslanders to do one thing this weekend – get out and support our strawberry farmers by buying a punnet of strawberries,” Palaszczuk said.”This is sabotage at its worst, and we want to catch who was responsible.”Earlier this week, the Premier made a AUD1 million (US$729,500) pledge to help a strawberry industry that has been the victim of an “ugly, calculated and despicable crime”.The relief funding has three facets: boosting demand through promotion; investigating ways to improve supply chain traceability and integrity; and helping growers for the remainder of the season and as the summer season ramps up in the Granite Belt area.”The Department of Agriculture is currently finalizing those arrangements in conjunction with the industry association and of course we’ve heard that the federal government is going to be matching that,” she said, clarifying more information on funding would likely be given to growers on Monday.”This is a $160 million industry [in Queensland; AUD288 million (US$210 million) nationwide]. It’s one that I’m incredibly proud of and one that I’m going to continue to support for many, many years to come,” she said.The Premier also highlighted the incentive of a AUD100,000 (US$72,894) for anyone who can come forward with information about the crime, while the Prime Minister has announced plans to increase jail time for food tampering to 15 years.Piñata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr thanked Premier Palaszczuk and the people of Australia for “having our back”.”The last eight or nine days or so have been one of the most difficult times that Queensland strawberry growers have ever had,” Scurr said.”The industry was literally on its knees earlier this week due to this ongoing crisis, however we’ve had our spirits uplifted in the last couple of days by the overwhelming support we’ve had from the Australian nation, from the people who are going in and buying strawberries despite this crisis.”We’re hearing of thousands of people buying six, eight, 10 punnets at a time. There’s people who are going and buying every punnet that’s literally on the shelf at the time, and that has certainly lifted our spirits.”Scurr said it had been a “harrowing experience” for strawberry farmers to have their integrity challenged. “It’s caused consumers to consider whether they would buy strawberries or not and that’s tragic for us as an industry,” he said.”However, we would like to go back to normal.”Piñata Farms is one of the great Queensland strawberry producers. Like many in the industry they’ve had a very tough week, but the support of everyone across Queensland eating more strawberries is helping them get through – cut them up, don’t cut them out. pic.twitter.com/USlPJbxPEt— AnnastaciaPalaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) 21 de septiembre de 2018Situation still bleak, but market has turned aroundThe Queensland Strawberry Growers Association (QSGA) carried out an “information blitz” this week including its “Find a Farm” initiative encouraging people to visit orchards in the Sunshine Coast area to either pick their own fruit or buy from farm shops. Customer notice from a Brisbane Coles supermarket that was stocking strawberries today, with two points of sale seen within the produce section.The response so far has been overwhelming for Amanda McMartin of McMartins Strawberry Farm, a family business that had fortunately already finished most of its harvesting when the crisis began.”It hasn’t affected us too much but we’ve had a lot of solidarity,” McMartin told Fresh Fruit Portal.”We’ve had a lot of people coming out and trying to help and support…we’ve been inundated with people coming and picking, and buying from our shop as well.”And is this something the farm has ever seen before?”No, it’s an extraordinary situation,” she said.”It’s a little bit harder at the markets because we had a bit of heckling, so we didn’t sell as much as we normally would do because of people being a bit silly and ridiculous with the whole thing.”But then the support came thick and fast after that once they realized it’s quite serious, that unless you support the farmer we’re going to go down.”She added there would be a “big rally for support” next weekend as well.QSGA vice president Adrian Schultz told Freshfruitportal.com his farm BerryLuv had also seen an exceptional turnout from people responding to the initiative with people picking fruit at a price that covers the cost of production.”It’s still looking very bleak but I am getting some positive news from the agents now because we did a fairly big information blitz two days ago. That seems to be having some response because we’ve outlined to people that if we’re going to recover, it’s going to have to be people-driven,” Schultz said.”At the beginning of this week we were thinking about shutting up shop for the season today, but the turnaround happened yesterday…it’s been overwhelming actually.”That morning I had agents telling me that no one was buying fruit, and by that evening we had agents ringing me up and saying ‘great, it’s happening, people are starting to buy fruit. When can you send?’ And it’s slowly built from there.”He said orders were looking “reasonably hopeful” for next week, and also believes Scott Morrison’s call for strawberry consumption and condemnation of “cowards” carrying out the needle contamination had a part to play.Sabotaging our strawberries is sabotaging our farmers. It’s not right. It’s not on. It’s a crime. pic.twitter.com/2B9TTg9JOf— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) 19 de septiembre de 2018For Schultz, much of the problem has been in the copycat acts rather than the initial cases of needles in punnets.”It’s escalated because of all this copycat business that’s been going on – that’s what’s scared people because of the speed at which it’s spread around the country,” he said.”As a result of all this I’ve had Biosecurity Queensland here today and Queensland Health are coming here next week. There’s a number of government bodies getting involved who want to find out about how a system works and how we can make it safer.