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Smaller strawberries and higher costs because of climate change

Being able to eat large, succulent strawberries may become a pleasure of the past, as the popular fruit is the latest victim of a changing climate.

And as smaller strawberries take longer to pick, production costs are rising along with temperatures, which means lower returns for farmers and could lead to a price hike at the checkout for consumers.

The principal horticulturist at Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Christopher Menzel, said field tests at the Nambour research center showed that as air temperatures rose the size of the fruit dropped.

"With climate change even here at Nambour the records show the night temperatures have gone up by about 3 degrees over the past 50 to 60 years, which is quite significant," he said.

"The size of the fruit is very sensitive to temperatures. What we've found is as the temperature increased, as you went from winter to spring, the fruit became smaller."

"A plant with small fruit is a lot more expensive to pick than a plant with large fruit," Mr Menzel said. "Towards the end of the season, it might take you four times [the initial time] to pick the fruit than it did earlier in the season."

The study and anecdotal evidence matched research around the world, which Mr Menzel said could mean all strawberry-growing regions would face similar problems. "There have been studies done in California that say without better varieties or new technology, yields in the next 50 years in California will fall by about 10 to 40 per cent as to what they are now," he said.

While climate change is causing an inevitable impact on strawberry production, Mr Menzel is optimistic the industry will adapt even if it might take a while. "I imagine people will invest more money as we go into the future with climate change," he said.

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