Australia has the sun and the sea.It has great tourist attractions and it has a diverse farming industry. Did you know there was a thriving Strawberry industry in Australia too?
Strawberry runners (plants) are grown in regions such as Toolangi (Vic), Stanthorpe (Qld) and Tasmania, where there is adequate chill to induce flowering, once planted. The Queensland Strawberry Runner Accreditation Scheme and the Victorian Certified Runner Scheme are in place to ensure mother-stock is free of viruses and pests, and that runners meet a specified quality standard.
Varieties grown in Australia are mostly introduced, and are predominantly sourced from the US (University of California), but also from Israel and Japan. Varieties bred from the Australian Strawberry Breeding Program are increasing in industry acceptance, with runners of varieties from the Queensland and Victorian Departments of Primary Industries breeding programs approaching 10% of the total market (Horticulture Australia estimates, 2003).
The industry is beginning to experiment with the economics and practicalities of plug plant production through the culturing of runner tips – a practice that is common in Europe. This planting technique is likely to affect early plant vigour and may become another tool to manipulate earliness of crop, further blurring the traditional production seasons between the different climatic regions.
Strawberry yields have increased as a result of research worldwide into plant health and the selection of improved varieties. Irrigation and fertigation technology has developed to enable precise delivery. The use of integrated pest management is becoming more common, although major challenges remain, both with existing pests and potential pests capable of entering Australia in the future. Picking labour cost remains as a major issue, as mechanical harvesting is not an option for strawberry fruit.
Many predict that there will be a “marketing push” towards sustainable and low-chemical production systems in the future. Whilst some technological advances have minimised the impact of strawberry production on the environment, there is scope to develop these further. Environmental Management Systems provide potential market barriers as well as opportunities for strawberry trade in the future. There is also a need to better understand maintenance of soil health and fertility, including replant problems and long term structural or nutrient decline. External environmental issues such as water quality (e.g. salinity) and climate change may also impact on strawberry production in the medium to long term.
Soils used for strawberry production are mostly fumigated and covered with plastic prior to planting to control soil micro-organisms. Until recently, the universal fumigant was Methyl Bromide (MB), but international restrictions have been placed on MB usage since it was agreed that this ozone-depleting gas would be phased out by 2005 under the Montreal Protocol. One of the challenges ahead for the industry will be the maintenance of production levels using alternative fumigants and soil treatments and/or integrated soil pest and disease management techniques.
Most Australian strawberries are currently grown in open fields, with only a small proportion grown in glasshouses or hydroponically. The most common form of protected cropping (typical in Western Australia) is strawberries grown under clear plastic tunnels, suspended less than half a metre above the ground.
An estimated 620 growers (in 2005) are involved in the industry. Production is concentrated in coastal regions, namely the Sunshine Coast area of QLD, the Camden region of NSW, the Yarra Valley region in Victoria, the Adelaide Hills, SA, and Wannaroo and Albany in WA
The short-term fruiting cycle of strawberries allows some growers to grow strawberry crops intermittently with other short-term crops, such as vegetables. For example, in Queensland there is a core group of 250 known regular growers, while 60-100 enter and leave the industry over short periods (Qld Strawberry Growers’ Association, 2003).
On the world scale, Australia was the 28th largest strawberry producer by volume in 2002, with the USA, Spain and Japan the top three respectively (FAOStat Agricultural Database). However, Australia ranks higher (17th) in production efficiency, producing an estimated 21 t/ha in 2002. World leaders in production efficiency are the USA, Israel and Spain, with 46, 42.5 and 42 t/ha estimated for 2002 respectively.
(FAOStat Agricultural Database).
Strawberries are very desirable to creatures other than humans. Possums, birds, slugs, snails and even dogs compete for the luscious fruit. Bird netting or wire mesh stretched over the plants may help. Repel snails and slugs with pet-safe baits or squashing.
The disease botrytis, or grey mould, can affect strawberry fruit and leaves. Remove brown or soggy fruit. Apply a registered fungicide to new flowers but pay careful attention to all withholding information (the time between spraying and harvest) on the label.
Powdery mildew, a fungus that causes a whitish-grey powder on the leaves, can also affect strawberries. Treat plants with fungicide or regularly apply a milk spray (one part milk to nine parts water). Full sun and good air circulation reduces powdery mildew.