Needle-in-strawberry charges dropped

16th July 2021 | Eativity editors

The Queensland strawberry industry was surprised and disappointed by Wednesday’s announcement that the case against a former farm worker accused of placing needles in strawberries in 2018 has been dropped. The prosecution said it would not be proceeding with the case as it “no longer had a reasonable prospect of securing a conviction”.

“Of course we’re disappointed that there isn’t going to be formal closure for the industry on this matter, but we respect the judicial process and thank those who’ve been involved to bring this matter to its end,” says President of the Queensland Strawberry Growers’ Association (QSGA), Adrian Schultz. “Like all fresh food producers, strawberry growers strive to ensure the quality and security of their produce, and these spiteful incidents – compounded by thoughtless copycat behaviour – were extremely disheartening.”

Strawberry growers like Luvaberry are continuing their hard work, with harvest season now starting.

Schultz says that while they might be discouraged by the case developments, growers will remain focused on the current harvest and the unique challenges it presents.

“When you’re a farmer, you only ever look forward, not back, and every season has its challenges,” he says. “This year, we’re facing chronic shortages in seasonal labour, and with such a short shelf-life, strawberries absolutely can’t wait when they’re ripe and ready to go. They must be picked almost daily or risk the fruit spoiling in the field.”

Queensland strawberry growers are a truly resilient bunch, having weathered more than their fair share of storms in recent years. But many in the industry remain optimistic, and have ploughed on doing what they do best, which is to grow fresh, juicy strawberries.

With the peak of the harvest starting in just a few weeks, farmers are facing their biggest challenge yet – to attract thousands more workers who are prepared to give farm work a go between now and October. With unseasonably cold conditions resulting in a very slow start to the harvest season, the need for workers across the next three months is critical.

In response to the severe labour challenges, QSGA came up with an industry-first activity to help attract new workers to join the industry. Back in April, the association launched an activity to incentivise potential workers with the chance to play to win up to $100,000 in cash, with 10 separate cash prizes to be won by working on strawberry farms.

QGSA’s initiative has recruited more farm workers. It’s hoped other horticultural industries will benefit, too.

The program opened on April 8 and more than 3000 workers had signed up by late June. With the slow start to the harvest, most of the 31 participating farms have had enough workers from the first round of entrants to get them through the early part of the season.

“The incentive aims to attract all kinds of workers to give farm work a go, with a view to staying at a single strawberry farm for the entire winter season,” says Jane Richter, QSGA Marketing Manager. “The more weeks a worker completes, the more entry points they earn. Ultimately, 10 workers will have a chance to win up to $100,000 each in October this year.”

Individuals or groups interested in the opportunity to try strawberry farm work and win cash can apply now at qldstrawberries.com.au