THE rising profiles of berry production in Australia has been given a stronger industry voice with three grower representative groups combining.
The new organisation represents a combined membership of more than 700 growers across Australia, ranging from major horticultural enterprises and multi-site agribusinesses to local cooperatives and independent farms.
In total, the growers’ annual output of 109,000 tonnes of berries represents a gross return of $1.05bn farmgate value in the national economy.
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The Costa Group’s Peter McPherson was elected inaugural president of the new body at the inaugural meeting in Coffs Harbour, NSW.
The new organisation wasted no time in contributing to the national horticulture conversation, welcoming a federal government confirmation of a $650,000 assistance package to restore consumer confidence following the recent spate of incidents of tampering with strawberries and other fruits.
Mr McPherson said the recent impact on strawberry growers showed the economic vulnerability of Australian farmers to sabotage beyond their control.
“Australia has a well-earned reputation internationally for the quality of our fresh produce and the safety standards and care taken by our growers,” he said.
“Our farmers are proud of the freshness and quality of what they grow and want their produce to go on sale in the same condition that it left the farm.
“Consumer confidence at home and overseas is critical for Australia’s reputation as a source of safe fresh food and a lot is currently being invested in promoting both on-farm safeguards and the systems in place from farmgate to consumer.”
“It is also important to remember that the strawberries incident was beyond the influence and control of growers and it’s essential that any program developed is national, integrated and based on the real needs of the horticulture sector, and doesn’t impose more costs on farmers already struggling in a tough environment.”
Mr McPherson said the newly formed Berries Australia joint venture represented all grower members nationally, and aimed to foster:
- opening and expansion of domestic and global markets for Australian berries
- continued innovation and development of skills to the advantage of all growers
- sustainable farming practices, including minimising operational impacts on surrounding communities and the environment
- ethical sourcing and engagement of labour
- provision of a safe working environment.
Berries are grown in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia enabling year-round production and supply to consumers.