Strawberry growers want needle saga closure

Queensland strawberry growers disappointed with strawberry needle charges being dropped

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Strawberry growers said their disappointed with the lack of closure but are focusing at the task at hand.

Strawberry growers said their disappointed with the lack of closure but are focusing at the task at hand.

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Disappointed Queensland Strawberry growers remain focused on the current harvest and its unique challenges

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Queensland strawberry growers say they're disappointed with collapse of the case against a former farm worker who was accused of the 2018 strawberry needle contamination saga.

My Ut Trinh worked as a farm supervisor at Berrylicious farm in Caboolture and was charged with eight counts of contamination of goods with intent to cause economic loss.

The first needle was discovered on September 9, 2018 when a man bit into a strawberry he bought at a supermarket.

As more needles were discovered around the country - with many believed to have been planted by copycats - strawberries were stripped from supermarket shelves.

The scare forced growers to destroy entire crops during the peak of their season with financial losses estimated at about $160 million.

Queensland Strawberry Growers' Association (QSGA) president, Adrian Schultz said that the industry was disappointed that there wasn't a "formal closure" to the matter but they "respected" the judicial process.

"Like all fresh food producers, strawberry growers strive to ensure the quality, security and freshness of their produce and these spiteful incidents - compounded by thoughtless copycat behaviour - were extremely disheartening," Mr Schultz said.

"When you are a farmer, you are only ever looking forward, not back and every season has its unique challenges, this year we are facing chronic shortages in seasonal labour and with such a short shelf-life strawberries absolutely can't wait when they are ripe and ready to go.

Attracting workers

Strawberries peak harvest season is just a few weeks away, and QSGA fear that unless thousands of workers are sourced, farmers will potentially lose millions again.

To combat the challenge QSGA launched an industry-first cash incentive scheme to lure new workers.

At the end of the season in October, 10 people will be selected at random to go in the draw, which will allow them to pick one out of 100 envelopes. One envelope will contain the $100,000 jackpot and the remaining 99 will contain $1000 consolation prizes. The game will be played 10 times, once for each chosen entrant.

The incentive program opened on 8 April 2021 and over 3,000 workers had signed up by late June. With unseasonably cold conditions resulting in a very slow start to the harvest, most of the 31 participating farms have had enough workers from the first batch of entrants for the promotion to get them through the early part of the season.

Jane Richter, marketing manager for QSGA said that incentive has been working and is an example of the industry's resilience.

"The incentive program really aims to attract all kinds of workers to come and give farm work a go, with a view to staying at a single strawberry farm for the entire winter season. The more weeks that a worker completes, the more entry points they can earn.:"

Individuals or groups interested in the opportunity can apply for work now via the website www.qldstrawberries.com.au

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