Sunday, January 01, 2012

Endless rain bad news for strawberry lovers

Strawberry fields forever? Forget it: right now they're a sodden mass of mud and rotting fruit.

The relentless rain of recent days has drowned strawberries across the country. Some growers and suppliers are losing more than 65 per cent of their crops.

Anyone thinking about serving up strawberries and champagne at the tennis in Auckland next week may have to think again. Ready- picked prices were around $9 per kg recently but had spiked to $12 last week.

At Auckland's Mangere Strawberry Farm, co-owner Grant Young pointed across his fields. "Everything should be dry out there and you should see a sea of beautiful strawberries. But what do you get? A lot of green leaves and not much fruit," he said.

The family-owned strawberry farm was losing more than half its crop each day to the rain.

The fruit needs sun to ripen, said Young. On a beautiful day they ordinarily sold 300kg; on Friday, when the Herald on Sunday visited during a downpour, they had sent their pickers home by lunchtime and were not expecting to sell more than 100kg.

That's a far cry from the week before, when customers were queuing to get in the carpark in search of strawberries.

In the wet, in Kumeu, Phil Greig was also counting his losses. "We were all geared up for a big weekend, but now it won't happen," said Greig, who sells to buyers from Whangarei to Invercargill. The rain, combined with warm weather, caused strawberries to rot, he explained.

At the gate, punnets were two for $4 and despite probable rises at supermarkets, Greig said retailers had been paying him just $1 a chip - "we're not even covering our costs on that".
By Geraldine Johns

5:30 AM Sunday Jan 1, 2012

Grant Young is concerned about how the bad weather and particularly rain damage will affect his strawberries. Photo / Janna Dixon

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