Australian Berry Industry Snapshot

Berry production promises to be the next big thing in the Australian commercial hydroponics and greenhouse industry, driven by new varietal developments, better growing systems, and consumer demand for safe foods that deliver health benefits. Over a relatively short time, the industry has expanded from the cooler regions of southern Australia to the sub-tropical regions of NSW and Queensland, and soon to tropical Far North Queensland.

Today, the increasing growth in the global berry market is not only about fresh soft fruits, but also value-added products such as dried and frozen products, juices and cordials, sparkling wines, wines and ports, jams, purees and sauces, and pharmaceutical-grade vitamin supplements. To the surprise of many, the recent hepatitis-A scare from imported frozen berries has only served to increase demand and consumption for Australian fresh berries, even though they cost a little more. In the not too distant future, Australian fresh berries will be available throughout the year, thanks to the development of varieties that fruit year round, and better growing systems that improve yields and quality. When year-round supply meets demand, prices can be expected to come down.

In this issue, we present a special feature on the Australian berry industry, and talk to industry leaders and a cross-section of berry growers using different growing methods—greenhouse/hydroponic, organic and soil production techniques. Each growing method has it challenges, but all are buoyed by the increasing demand and good prices for fresh berries.

Our feature article is a glimpse into what growers will learn about the berry industry at the coming national conference, to be held at Jupiters Convention Centre, Queensland, in early July, and the International Berry Organisation seminar to be held in Coffs Harbour, NSW, in September 2015. While the former brings together Australian berry experts and growers, the latter brings together representatives from the world’s top producing berry countries with the objective of sharing information and analysis on the current state of the industry. Coffs Harbour was chosen as the seminar host because it is the main blueberry growing region in NSW, an industry valued at $120-$130 million. More details about these events can be found within our feature article, Sweet harvest.

While the aim of industry gatherings is to share information, they are also breeding grounds for ideas, and they often become pathways to future directions. Our story, Fruit growing in 2060, is a pointer to expected future growth in the protected cropping industry. In recent years there has been worldwide production of high quality fruit under protective cropping, however, not in Australia or New Zealand. That will change. In Europe, there is a swing away from field-grown strawberries to greenhouse production, which grows better quality fruit and provides a more stable supply. Ditto other berry products. Weather sensitive crops such as cherries are also starting to appear under protected cropping structures. For orchard crops such as cherries, significant advantages of protected cropping are bird protection and the effective use of biocontrols, instead of using chemical sprays to control pest and diseases. The author says the writing is on the wall for high quality fruit production—adapt or disappear.  Ω

June 2015 / Issue 156