Strawberry Farmers 'Proud' After Nation Rallies In Support After Needle Scare
It's been a rough week for Robert Edwards and his staff.
"Terrible", he told ten daily.
But he and other growers have been floored by the "phenomenal" campaign to support the strawberry industry in the wake of the damaging needle contamination scare that has gripped every corner of the country.
Hundreds of cases of fruit tainted with needles or other metal have been reported to police in multiple states, with NSW Police alone looking into more than 100 reports.
Supermarkets pulled affected brands from the shelves, the remaining few plummeted in price as shoppers avoided the berries, and even international exports were affected.
But after a few nightmare days for strawberry farmers already reeling from the drought scorching many parts of the country, where workers were sadly let go and heartbreaking vision emerged of growers having to dump mountains of unsold crops, things are looking up again.
Politicians, media and celebrities are trying to encourage shoppers to indulge in the summer fruit favourite, with a campaign advising people to "cut them up, don't cut them out".
Federal and state representatives are eating strawberries en masse, mobbing every camera they come across and stuffing fruit into their mouths at every opportunity. Regular Australians are also lining up to buy strawberries direct from farms, and supermarkets are increasing their normal order sizes, said Queensland farmer Robert Edwards.
"The support has been fantastic. Our farm has been quite busy with people coming to buy. People are getting behind us," he told ten daily from his Strawberry Fields farm on the Sunshine Coast.
"The local IGA has taken more than they've been getting before. It feels fantastic. I don't know what to say."
Edwards said the first few days of the contamination scare had been "scary" and "terrible", and he unfortunately had to cut back on shifts for his workers.
"We were thinking our season was gone. You've got to feel for the workers too. There's only 12 packers working today, we had 22 before. They've had to move on, we couldn't afford to keep picking and throwing them away," he said sadly.
"We are a pick-your-own farm. We kept six patches but we did wipe out three, but now we’re cleaning those back up now to reopen. During the week we have seen more people coming to pick, we just had a busload of 27 come in now."
Jennifer Rowling, industry development officer for QLD Strawberries, said the public campaign to support growers had been a huge moral booster for farmers.
"It has definitely lifted spirits after a pretty devastating week. It's nice to hear a bit of hope in their voices," she told ten daily.
"The community support has been phenomenal. The consumer is right behind it, they don't want to let this sort of thing affect the way we live, because we have great fruit and vegetables. It's awesome."
Rowling said farmers had been "devastated" as the contamination issue spread nationwide, but said she didn't want to dwell on the negatives. Instead, both she and Edwards wanted to praise those who had supported the industry through what Edwards called a "roller coaster" of a week.
"It was a really hard few days, not knowing what was going on, and we had quite a few growers who needed to stop production because they couldn't afford it. So it’s really positive they'll be around next season, the morale is up now," Rowling said.
"It makes you proud to be Australian. We don't want to let something like that affect our ability to have good produce. We’ve got good quality assurance systems, we’ve never had a problem until this. So everyone is really happy things have turned."