Should we be moving away from plastic?

Consumers have become increasingly concerned with the large amounts of plastic used in the packaging of fresh produce. This has caused many to move towards low plastic alternatives and as a result caused many supermarkets to consider dropping plastic packaging all together.

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One of the main reasons plastics are used to such a large extent is the fact that they not only help with the transportation of fresh produce, but also help extending its shelf life. Some people think that if plastic is removed completely that it will have a large impact not only on the food supply chain, but on how much food is wasted.

Food typically travels from the fields where it is produced to a storage facility for processing. It is then stored until it is needed. Then it's packaged, transported and distributed to shops, where it is marketed, before being bought and consumed. This takes varying amounts of time, depending on a range of factors. The complete removal of plastic packaging from this process has the potential to increase losses along the supply chain, which has then potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions and impact food security. Moving towards low-plastic alternatives is important to reduce the amount of plastic that circulates in our environment, but with current distribution systems in place, along with existing consumer purchasing habits, some plastics may need to be retained to ensure food is not lost along the supply chain.

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Be sure to put berries in your basket

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Queensland’s annual strawberry season launched last week on the Sunshine Coast, serving as the perfect reminder for customers to add fresh strawberries to their shopping lists once again.

Strawberries have long been one of Queensland’s favourite fruits renowned for their size, colour, aroma and juicy flavour. Research has shown they are bought more frequently than any other fruit except for apples and bananas.

As more than 100 of the state’s strawberry growers begin to pick their first fruits, Queenslanders can be assured some of the freshest and juiciest berries can be had in June and July. At this time of year an average of 800,000 strawberry punnets will leave Queensland farms each week.

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Protective cropping and precision ag tech

Due to increasing risks of climatic extremes, as well as tighter regulations around chemicals, many strawberry growers have started to look towards protected cropping as a more profitable means of farming. Along with this, there has been a noticeable influx of on-farm technologies, with many offering a range features to aid in crop sensing and variable rate application.

Click here to view a list of ag-tech companies, with a range of interesting products, who are displaying at Amsterdam’s GreenTech 2019.


Practical solutions to combat fruit fly

Shepparton hosted this year’s Australian Biology of Tephritid Fruit Flies Conference, which brought together researches, scholars, and industry leaders to discuss all things fruit fly.

The two-day conference was hosted by Goulburn Murray Valley Fruit Fly Project, and attracted approximately 150 delegates from across Australia. Key points over the two days included biosecurity and market access, fruit fly ecology and microbial interactions, molecular biology and genetics along with chemical ecology.

Goulburn Murray Valley Fruit Fly project coordinator, Ross Abberfield described the conference as an invaluable opportunity to bring the sharpest minds in the field together: “This is a national event and brings together researchers from each end of the professional spectrum. It enables them to look, listen, learn and connect with their peers and recognise fruit fly research scholars.”

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Scottish strawberries all year round

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Famous for its sweet strawberries, Scotland has traditionally only been able to produce strawberries throughout the summer months, but now, due to advancements in protected cropping, year round production may be possible. Scottish-based Intelligent Growth Solutions were successful in their first vertical farm trials in February 2019 and are looking to expand their production.

David, the CEO, commented: “This is an exciting advance for us, showing that increasingly broad range of produce such as strawberries can be grown economically, right here, all year round. Growing in this controlled indoor environment means that we are better able to guarantee consistency of quality, appearance and flavour.”

“Soft fruits are now perennial items on supermarket shelves, but this does mean considerable shipping costs and environmentally damaging food miles. And frankly the imported product is often tasteless and lacks juiciness. We are just on the cusp, but this trial shows that there is the potential to produce delicious, fresh produce all year round much closer to home which is very exciting for growers, retailers and consumers alike.”

Click here to watch a time lapse video of of the strawberries in action.


Attacking thrips with Bugline

Dutch company Bioline AgroSciences has come up with a new way of controlling thrips in strawberry production, with their new product ‘Bugline’.

The ‘Bugline’ product is long is a ribbon that contains sachets of the predatory mite, Amblyseius cucumeris. The nature of the product makes it easy-to-use, and an effective way of controlling thrips in controlled growing environments.

Click here to find out more about the product and to watch a video of it in use.


Specialty strawberry sprayer for table-top production

Scottish farm machinery firm, Vegcraft, have developed a state-of-the-art self-propelled sprayer for table-top production of strawberries. The McDonald family, who fun the Vegcraft company, have been producing machinery for the agricultural industry for over 25 years. The company, who have usually focussed on machinery for wide-range of vegetable crops, have only recently shifted to berry machinery after growing berries themselves.

Gillan McDonald with two of the sprayers (source: )

Gillan McDonald with two of the sprayers (source:

“We started growing strawberries two years ago and realised there was a market for sprayers for the fruit industry,” said Gillan McDonald of Vegcraft.

Their berry sprayer, the ProSpray Straddle Tractor, is made bespoke to growers specifications, with a tank capacity of 600 - 800 litres. Varying from widths of 4 - 6 rows the machine has the option of air-assist, which moves the canopy of the plant to apply chemical directly to the crown. This method of application has the potential to result in chemical use efficiency and decrease input costs.

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USA: Benefits of growing strawberries under low tunnels

A new video from TunnelBerries discusses the key benefits of growing strawberries under plastic low tunnels in cold climates of North America. These benefits are directly supported by data and conclusions gathered from multiple studies by researchers on the TunnelBerries team. The video also emphasizes the limitations of these studies and when growing under low tunnels is and is not appropriate.

Key benefits identified include:

  1. Protective barrier

  2. Reduction in disease incidence

  3. Higher marketable yield

  4. Extension of the growing season

Common fruit flies in Australia developing resistance to insecticides

New research has found that fruit flies in temperate parts of Australia are becoming resistant to common insecticides. The study, led by the University of Melbourne, found fruit flies living in the south eastern part of the country -including Victoria, New South Wales and parts of South Australia- were evolving resistance to the effects of common sprays.

It found fruit flies living in temperate areas were also better at resisting insecticides than those living in more tropical areas.

The study focused on the fruit fly’s resistance to imidacloprid-stronger evidence of positive selection in temperate populations compared to tropical populations’’.

Lead researcher Alexandre Fournier-Level said the fruit fly was evolving despite ‘multiple stresses’. “That is not only insecticides or temperature or humidity, they have to cope with all the stresses all at once,’’ he said. “It is a game between a bait and a target. So, an insecticide being the bait and its molecular target being generally located in the fly’s brain. The first and most common mechanism is that the target changes its shape and the insecticide can no longer reach the target.’’

Dr Fournier-Level said agribusinesses across the world needed to instead look at genetic and ecological factors to manage the pest: “What is definitely over is this era which started in the 1940s where we could just use one barrel of chemical product to actually deal with any and every species.”

He said if we know tropical fruit flies do not evolve to resist insecticides, we could use them to help breed out the insecticide resistance in temperate flies. “Therefore, we could diminish the level of resistance in the population. Once we figure out what is the actual molecular mechanism at the gene level that confers one thing over the other, play one against the other.’’


Strawberry supplies run short in supermarkets

Strawberries are reported to be in short supply in supermarkets following a delay from Queensland growers and limited fruit left on bushes in Victoria.

“There has been more of a break in supply this year as it has mostly been a warm season and our fruit has all ripened off early,” Kookaberry Strawberry Farm owner Frances Caltiri said.

“It is the end of our season and all our strawberries are under cloches, which we usually do around this time of the year.”

Ms Caltiri said it was the first year the business had little fruit left on the bushes.

“We are still picking seven days a week, but only small amounts,” she said. “On top of this, Queensland has been affected by drought so their supply is not yet in supermarkets.”

Yarra Valley grower Jim Ripepi said he experienced hot and dry conditions during the growing season.

“We will try to pick as much as we can before Queensland berries hit supermarkets,” Mr Ripepi said.

“We did experience some wet weather last week, which has also affected picking — adding on to the hot season.”

Coles said the supermarket had a limited supply of strawberries in most states.

Source: Amelia Pepe, The Weekly Times

Overview of Australian strawberry market

In a recently published global overview of strawberry markets, focussing on thirteen different international markets, FreshPlaza covered the ups and downs of the Australian strawberry industry. The Australian industry was deemed to have ‘varying prospects’, due to the inconsistencies amongst growers, with some growers expecting high yields, and others reporting reporting deterioration with plants. This was primarily deemed to be a result of problematic conditions throughout Victoria and Queensland. The shortage in supply, a result of the adverse conditions, is expected to cause market prices to rise.

At the end of June 2018, 93,545 tonnes of strawberries had been produced in Australia, with a total value of $ 445 million. Exports increased by 11%. The domestic market accounted for 72% of the fresh strawberry sales.’

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Spain: special strawberry packaging for Mother's Day

Grufesa, a Spanish producer and marketer of berries has launched a new strawberry packaging for the domestic and European markets, been specially designed for Mother's Day.


This new packaging format, which is becoming part of a whole line of special formats for special occasions, contains 400 grams, making it suitable for sharing and giving. It has a heart and the word LOVE die cut in order to give visibility to the product, and has the word "mom" printed in Spanish and in the language of the countries where the company exports its fruit, some of which celebrate Mother's Day on a different date.

Furthermore, it includes a love letter where you can write some nice words for mom on such a special date.


UK: Recyclable, biodegradable and home compostable Sugarcane-based packaging

A UK Fresh produce packaging supplier, Evesham Specialist Packaging Ltd, has developed a sugarcane-based packaging which allows product breathability and creates a drier environment.

Despite being more expensive to produce, the company explains that the manufacturing process is nothing like what is known in the plastics sector as it is a much slower process. Sales Manager Paul McReynolds says it is worth it given the major environmental benefits, in that it will break down in the environment in as little as a few months depending on conditions.


"Our trays are made from sugarcane bagasse, which is a fantastic material," Paul said. "Environmentally it is a superb story, made from waste from the sugarcane industry".

There are three properties to this type of packaging: it is recyclable, biodegradable and home compostable. The pack is fully recyclable through paper chain and can be part of the general kerbside collection.


Australians back bumblebee pollination of Tasmanian tomato crops

The Australian federal government has agreed with a Senate committee recommendation to use Tasmania's feral bumblebee populations for a two-year trial for pollination purposes.

The inquiry, instigated in 2016, sought to find out the risks and opportunities from using the state's bumblebee population for commercial horticultural purposes. It noted there was interest within the state's industry to use bumblebees to pollinate certain crops, like greenhouse tomatoes.

Former Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister, Jeremy Rockliff, told the inquiry the government believed they could offer an advantage for pollination purposes as there was no feasible opportunity for eradication: "They are used in many other countries for pollination and the Tasmanian Government supports a cautiously and carefully run trial with a Tasmanian commercial tomato farmer.”

Fruit Growers Tasmania said bumblebees were less affected by adverse and cooler weather conditions, like those experienced in Tasmania, than honey bees and, therefore, were more effective for pollination.

The University of Tasmania and Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture said international research on the use of bumblebees, rather than honey bees, for pollination had increased the yield for glasshouse crops that grew tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, cucumber, raspberries and strawberries.

The Costa Group told the inquiry a single bee had the ability to pollinate 450 flowers per hour in a glasshouse tomato crop and their use would give Tasmania an economic advantage over other states.


Runner quality to determine market price

Queensland strawberry producer Piñata Farms Managing Director, Gavin Scurr says the quality of runner plants this year have been lower than previous years, but may be a blessing in disguise.

Piñata Farms' strawberry production    Photo Credit: Piñata Farms

Piñata Farms' strawberry production

Photo Credit: Piñata Farms

"The runners that we have been provided this year, are less than ideal," he said. "They come from Victoria and Stanthorpe, and both of those locations have had really tough summers - hot and dry. So the plants that we have planted are not the best plants we have ever planted, in fact they would be close to the worst. However, all the plants that growers wanted to plant are planted. There has been talk that plants would be short that hasn't eventuated, it's the quality of the plants that are less than ideal and the expected yield of the plants is less than they would have been."

But while it sounds grim, from an industry perspective, he said it could turn out to be a positive, as the market has not been able to cope with the high volumes in previous seasons.

"The last couple of winters have been very tough pricing wise," Mr Scurr said. "There has been an oversupply of the fruit, so having less production is a good thing from my point of view, and will align supply more with demand. Hopefully it will stop those prices that are below the cost of production in August-September. If we get a normal winter, I still think that we are still going to get a reduction in volume, but I see that as a positive. Growers haven't reduced planting, so hopefully the quality of plants will knock the edge of the volume, and put a margin in for growers who haven't made a profit for at least three years."


USA: cardboard strawberry clamshells

As people across the country focused on Earth Day earlier this week and how each of us can make a difference, California Giant said it was working behind the scenes conducting field tests on prototype cardboard clamshells for fresh strawberries.


The cardboard strawberry clamshell, called Ready-Cycle introduced by Sambrailo Packaging has received attention by many in the industry including USA strawberry producers California Giant.  California Giant has conducted their own real-world shipments partnering with a key foodservice customer and Sambrailo. The company spent several months working closely with Markon Cooperative testing the two-pound clamshell in the field for shipments to their distributor partners. After some adjustments were made to the container to ensure fruit integrity, a recent test shipment showed positive results, with the customer committed to introducing the container during peak berry season in 2019, it announced.

The new line of Ready-Cycle, corrugated, fully-recyclable clamshells, are aimed at reducing the amount of packaging used in the foodservice industry.

California Giant said it is always looking for solutions and new opportunities to better serve their customers and the consumer. This new initiative may not be the final solution that answers the question about how to reduce the plastic headed for landfills, but it helps to have the conversation about what industry can accomplish together and begin the pathway to find solutions for the future.


Sealed pack Ozone treatment kills moulds, yeast and human pathogens

A Scottish-based food-safety company, Anacail, have develop an ozone treatment designed to work with traysealed packs.  While the technology has application to a range of fresh produce lines, they are currently focusing on three main produce lines grapes, tomatoes and berries.


"Our machine basically generates Ozone gas (O3) into a sealed pack using a high-voltage electrode to create a cold plasma.” Business Development Manager Ian Dewar said. "The ozone is created from the naturally occurring oxygen inside the pack; it breaks apart the oxygen molecules, and they recombine to create Ozone. The treatment head comes down onto the pack, creates a seal, and then we fire the electrode and that generates the plasma. In effect we are breaking up oxygen molecules and converting them to Ozone."

"The Ozone lasts in the pack for around eight minutes before it all reverts back to oxygen, and within about one minute, half of the Ozone has turned back into oxygen," he said. "In that time, it has destroyed mould spores, bacteria and yeasts - so it has killed any spoilage mechanisms that are in the pack. It is, in effect, a dry wash, and what we have seen from tomatoes, grapes and strawberries, where we have a lot of micro-biological data, is that we can see up to a three-log reduction, which is hugely significant.  Ozone is a non-specific germicide; it kills moulds, yeast and human pathogens such as E coli and Salmonella." Due to its powerful mechanism, there’s no way for any bacteria to develop any resistance to ozone.”

Mr Dewar says one of the important factors is that it does not harm the produce, or make it unsafe at any point in time, but increases the shelf-life by killing spoilage mechanisms harmful to the fruit. Organoleptic testing and migration testing, undertaken by the company, on the packaging have shown that the process has no detrimental effect on the fruit relating to taste or smell and that there are no harmful chemical residues generated as a result of the process.


Varietal selection in organics market

Better yields, longer shelf-life, and taste go a long way with retailers and consumers. Everyone wants to develop a better berry; but for some consumers it’s all about growing method.

While the majority of berries are still grown conventionally, organics are gaining ground—at least metaphorically.

They may not command the prices they once did, but consumers are still willing to pay a 20- to 50-percent premium for organic berries according to Jack Cain, vice president of sales and marketing for Always Fresh Farms in Winter Haven, Florida.

“Organic farms are getting more efficient with their growing practices and their yields,” he said.

When it comes to developing new varieties, several berry categories are making news.

To meet demand and keep pricing palatable, Cain said “We’re going to have to continue to improve quality through genetics: better taste, better shelf life, more disease resistant, and better harvesting.”

New varieties planted and harvested at different times can also help.

Cain said that Sweet Sensation, a newer strawberry variety in Florida, is starting to replace Radiance as the berry of choice.

Cain describes Sweet Sensation strawberries as “a nice, bright berry,” one popular with consumers due to its “colour and conical shape.” Overall, it’s simply a good looking and tasting berry.

Source: Produce Blueprints quarterly journal

Combating powdery mildew with robots

Doctoral candidate Rodrigo Borba Onofre works with robotic UV equipment  for the University of Florida's Strawberry Lab near Tampa, Fla.   Photo  credit: UF-IFAS

Doctoral candidate Rodrigo Borba Onofre works with robotic UV equipment for the University of Florida's Strawberry Lab near Tampa, Fla.

Photo credit: UF-IFAS

Researchers in the USA may have found a way to protect strawberry fields from mildew with ultraviolet light.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has teamed up with the Norway-based startup, Saga Robotics, to test out the autonomous robot named Thorvald.

Thorvald quietly roams fields at night on battery power bathing plants with ultraviolet light to kill powdery mildew.

Thorvald is able to kill mildew only at night because it catches the fungus while it's napping in the dark. Research showed that mildew repairs damage from UV rays during the day, but that repair ability doesn't work at night.

"We are really just scratching the surface of how we can use light to suppress plant pathogens and pests," said David Gadoury, senior research associate at Cornell University. "Until now, the focus has been on optimizing light for plant growth, but we can trick the enemies of plants with lighting to tip the balance towards plant health."

The American strawberry industry is particularly interested in robotic farm machines because the berries are one of the most labor-intensive crops. Field workers, usually recent immigrants, still are used because machines in the past could damage the fruit. But hiring pickers has gotten more difficult.