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Growers worried of "over-saturated" market

South Australian berry industry speaks out against new strawberry farm

The South Australian Government is under fire from the state's berry industry for funding a new hydroponic strawberry farm which growers say will over saturate an already crowded market.

Berry Sensation, a sub-company of the oil and gas business Mecrus, has been awarded $2 million through the government's Future Jobs Fund for the $34.7 million project in the Wattle Range area of south-east SA.

The proposed facility would be the first in the world to grow strawberries year-round, according to the state government, and is expected to increase South Australia's strawberry production by 30 per cent while creating around 140 ongoing jobs.

Chair of the Berry Grower's Association of SA, Vanessa Sherry, said the extra supply of strawberries would cause "nightmares" for existing growers, who already face fierce competition to sell their produce.

"Most of us cooperate with each other but it's becoming such a volatile industry in such a glut of supply," Ms Sherry said.

"Everyone's going to be a little bit more cut-throat I think in their day to day business."

Too many strawberries, not enough demand
Ms Sherry, a grower herself, said many in the industry believed the state government hadn't properly considered the flow-on effects of introducing a new farm to the market before committing money to the project.

"They're trying to dress it up, saying look at us, we're creating jobs in the south-east — what they're going to do is basically double the supply of strawberries," she said.

"They're giving money to a company that will contribute to our problem.

"If they're going to run year-round it's a huge issue for Queensland and Western Australia as well — they're in their off-season now but they're already in a glut."

While the State Government said the company intended to supply markets in Japan and South Korea as well as Australia, Ms Sherry said that wouldn't lessen the local competition.

Domestic consumption to increase, government says
A government spokesperson said consumer demand for high quality berries was growing, with domestic consumption of strawberries predicted to increase by 10 per cent from 2017-21.

"The strawberry sector operates as a national market, supplying Australia-wide during different times of the year," they said.

"There is excellent potential for growth in this industry.

"Supermarket chains have expressed a desire for consistent high quality, year-round supply of fresh berries which is what these investors are looking to meet."

The spokesperson said the Berry Sensation project would create nearly 220 jobs in total for South Australia.


Publication date: 11/27/2017



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