“No fruit waste” policy – value addition enterprise sees strawberries transformed into cider

A 'no fruit waste' berry business is seeing success in turning its sweet, ripe fruit that is too soft or odd-shaped for supermarkets into cider, hand crafted ice cream, preserves and jams for its visitors.

As reported by ABC Rural, ten years ago Kim and Jason Lewis launched their farm-tourism venture, Cooloola Berries in Wolvi, a one hour drive north of Noosa in Queensland.

 Kim and Jason Lewis with their berry 'no waste' cider.  Photo Credit: Jennifer Nichols, ABC Rural

Kim and Jason Lewis with their berry 'no waste' cider.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Nichols, ABC Rural

Their licensed farm cafe now opens seven days a week with hundreds of people visiting on busy weekends.

"We like to grow the amount of strawberries that there is a use for, so we minimise food waste," Ms Lewis said, as she poured brightly coloured glasses of cider from a freshly opened keg.

"Not all strawberries are beautiful enough to make the cut to go in our first quality fruit, so that's where the cider comes in.

"We take our strawberries down to a micro-brewery in Brisbane and we produce a lovely strawberry cider that has an apple base.

Diversification adds interest

Ms Lewis said this year they expect to pick about 60 tonnes of strawberries from 80,000 plants for their products, farm shop and farmers markets.

"We focus on sweetness and taste rather than shelf life, rather than the qualities supermarkets are looking for," Mr Lewis said.

"Our pick-your-own market is huge here and because we let people eat in the paddocks they tend to taste all the varieties and leave with punnets of different varieties."

Source: Jennifer Nichols, ABC Rural

USA: Looking for the next big biotech traits - disease-resistant GMO strawberries

Conventional breeding techniques and chemical controls have long been agriculture’s central means for disease management. However, despite hundreds of crosses performed and generations of progeny evaluated, durably resistant varieties remain elusive. Today, plant breeders are armed with an alternative method when conventional breeding techniques are insufficient. Specifically designed, genetically engineered plants offer potential for the development of novel traits faster and with greater precision than ever before.

Strawberries are afflicted by a variety of bacterial and fungal pathogens, such as anthracnose crown rot, powdery mildew and angular leaf spot. To build resistance, plant breeders are applying a novel method to stimulate the plant’s natural immune system, known as systemic acquired resistance (SAR).  SAR works by making use of the plant’s inherent defence mechanisms.  When a plant is attacked by a pathogen, the localized defence reaction spreads throughout the plant. This stimulates the production of pathogenesis-related (PR) proteins, which arrest the pathogens from infecting the plant.

Researchers at the University of Florida transformed strawberries with genes from Arabidopsis (a mustard plant relative), a known key regulator of PR proteins, and assessed their ability to resist disease while maintaining typical plant growth and development. Results of the trials showed enhanced resistance to all three pathogens. However, normal plant development was altered in comparison to controls, with most transgenic plants producing significantly smaller fruit among other developmental differences. The results are encourage as demonstrate the proof of concept of the potential benefits of the technology. Growers should be optimistic that further research will refine the expression of these genes while maintaining both resistance and plant productivity.

Source: Anne Schwartz, Vegetable and Specialty Crop News

Growers express concern over potential imports

Australian strawberry producers expressed concern as the Department of Agricultural and Water Resources (DAWR) undertakes a risk assessment for the importation of Japanese strawberries into Australia.

DAWR received a formal market access request from Japan for strawberries, however, according to Kate Sutherland of Tasmania’s Burlington Berries, who are partnered with the UK's Hugh Lowe Farms, there is heightened concern of the potential for major pests such as spotted wing drosophila to enter Australia.

“From our experiences in the United Kingdom, the threat of spotted wing drosophila is very real to Australia,” Kate Sutherland reported to Fresh Plaza.

 Burlington Berries packing facility in Cressy, Tasmania

Burlington Berries packing facility in Cressy, Tasmania

Kate said the recent Queensland fruit fly incursion into Tasmania was an example of how inadequate treatment regimes, such as fumigation, can potentially expose industries to new pests.

The import requirements for the approved Korean strawberries include mandatory methyl bromide fumigation offshore for spotted wing drosophila, pest free places of production for angular leaf spot and pre-export visual inspection for spider mites and thrips.

“While we know trade can’t be restricted, it is important that biosecurity maintain a higher priority than the trade requirement.”

“If we lose that battle and spotted wing enters Australia, our businesses will become severely impacted as will our export markets.” 

As a World Trade Organization member, Australia is required to assess market access proposals and develop the least trade restrictive and scientifically justified import conditions. 

Australia and Japan have a strong two-way trading relationship, with agriculture exports to Japan worth more than $4.7 billion in 2016-17. The main exports to Japan include wheat and barley, wine and horticulture (oranges, mandarins, macadamias, table grapes and asparagus). In 2015-16, agricultural imports from Japan were worth $236 million.

Source: freshplaza.com

Tasmania: Fruit fly eradication ‘top priority’

The Federal Government announcement of $20 million on the war against fruit fly in Tasmania, has been welcomed by Primary Industries Minister, Sarah Courtney.

"I am absolutely focussed on eradication of fruit fly in Tasmania — that is my number-one priority," she said.

"It's very pleasing that we haven't had any more detections over the past month or so."

As reported by the ABC, Ms Courtney said Tasmania was under increased pressure from pests and diseases.

"We already have a strong biosecurity system pre-border, at border and post-border to deal with incursions and pressures such as fruit fly."

"Since coming to Government in 2014, we have increased biosecurity funding, with $4.5 million more per year now in the budget and employed more biosecurity staff," she said.

Nic Hansen from Fruit Growers Tasmania welcomed the announcement.

"Fruit growing industry is a large employer in this state," he said.

"We contribute many millions of dollars to the export industry bringing dollars into Tasmania."

He said until the state's fruit-fly-free status was regained growers would remain concerned.

"Eradication is not a possibility — it's the only possibility," he said.

He said using sterile adult fruit flies was now an option available to Tasmania.

"If it's needed, they will be employed in the spring, but let's let the science determine whether it's required," he said.

The money will be spent on:

  • Increased inspection services
  • Growers assistance package — on top of $2 million already committed
  • Sterile fruit flies

Source: Fiona Blackwood, ABC News



Pacific workers filling Australian labour shortfall

The lack of casual seasonal workers across the production horticulture sector in Australia isn't a new revelation.

However, one small Pacific nation is taking advantage of this labour gap by increasingly supplying workers to fruit and vegetable farms in Tasmania.

  A Kiribati worker at Hillwood Berries

A Kiribati worker at Hillwood Berries

Kiribati is one of the world’s most remote countries, located roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii. With a history of involvement in labour migration through the local maritime industry, the country joined the Australian Government’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) in 2010.

In 2010, Kiribati initially sent 11 workers to Australia. In 2017 these numbers increased to 124 across the tourism and agriculture sectors.

Hillwood Berries in Tasmania joined the Program four years ago, through a labour hire company in the first year, before becoming a SWP Approved Employer themselves, through the Department of Jobs and Small Business. 

Hillwood Berries initially employed seasonal workers from Tonga before expanding to include workers from Timor-Leste and Kiribati.

"The Seasonal Worker Programme is a really wonderful labour resource. SWP workers coming back every season is a major plus," said Hillwood's Sue Williams.

"Less training is needed and in the second season the SWP workers hit the ground running from the day they arrive. They are dedicated and here under contract for six months. It has definitely helped to improve productivity on the farm."

"Now that the Department of Employment has made the process to become an SWP Approved Employer much simpler, Tasmanian farms are starting to come on board. The Programme is fantastic, it is a win-win for all’, Sue said.  

Source: freshplaza.com

Autonomous strawberry harvester

Due to a diminishing workforce in the Florida strawberry industry, growers are looking to new ways of harvesting their crops. With financial backing from growers and industry bodies, Wish Farms in Duette, Florida, have produced a fully autonomous harvesting robot, and aim to make it commercially available by 2020.  

The robot works by moving along beds, monitoring the plant and berries, with a series of onboard cameras, to determine if the fruit is ready for harvest. The robot then picks the fruit with a rubber claw-like hand, causing minimal damage to the berry. 

The robot is still currently under production, but has full support from the Florida strawberry industry. 

Click here to watch a video of the autonomous harvester.

Source: hortdaily.com


Certhon Innovation Centre berry trials

Certhon Greenhouse Solutions has recently set up a brand new Innovation Centre to conduct indoor trials on berries and a range of horticultural crops. 

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Jeroen van Lent, Agronomist at Certhon believes there are many advantages of growing crops in a controlled environment. 'The crop can be controlled down to the finest detail. Every moment of the day you can ensure that the circumstances are ideal. For example, there are no fluctuations in temperature, humidity and other uncontrollable factors. In addition to the cultivation knowledge we gain, we also   investigate how we can optimise our technical installations.' 

A significant amount of research has been conducted prior to the creation of the Innovation Centre, says Jeroen. 'In addition to the successful indoor projects we have realised, research was done into the optimisation of the technology of daylight-free cultivation. In the innovation centre, with eight growth chambers on an area of 240 m2, we can continue that research on a large scale. With the cultivation knowledge we gain, we can help our customers in the first few years on the right path with growing various crops. Furthermore, we can carry out trial projects to obtain reference figures and this unique facility offers the possibility to show our systems to our customers.'

Source: hortdaily.com


Manipulating genetic inheritance of spotted-wing drosophila

Biologists at the University of California San Diego have developed a method of manipulating the genes of spotted-wing drosophila. The research led by insect genetics professor Anna Buchman, describes the world’s first “gene drive” system—a mechanism for manipulating genetic inheritance.

The team have developed a gene drive system termed Medea (named after the mythological Greek enchantress who killed her offspring) in which a synthetic “toxin” and a corresponding “antidote” function to dramatically influence inheritance rates with nearly perfect efficiency.

“We’ve designed a gene drive system that dramatically biases inheritance in these flies and can spread through their populations,” said Buchman. “It bypasses normal inheritance rules. It’s a new method for manipulating populations of these invasive pests, which don’t belong here in the first place.”

In contained cage experiments of spotted wing drosophila using the synthetic Medea system, the researchers reported up to 100 percent effective inheritance bias in populations descending 19 generations.

Source: www.freshplaza.com

Latrobe Valley in the running for $37 million hydroponic strawberry glasshouse

The Latrobe Valley is in the running for a $37 million hydroponic strawberry glasshouse which would produce 2100 tonnes of fresh fruit per annum and provide 120 ongoing local jobs.

Mecrus Group, which trades as Gippsland Strawberries and Berry Sensation, is being lured to the Valley with a $3 million federal government grant designed to kick start local jobs and industries.

Managing director Barry Richards said they had not chosen a site yet and were tossing up between building the 12-hectare glasshouse in either South Australia or the Latrobe Valley.

Mr Richards said site selection was dependent on how well it could service a large-scale strawberry glasshouse and would take into account factors such as water availability, climate and whether the land was flat enough.

Mr Richards said he hoped to announce a site by the end of May. Construction would start in July, taking about two years to build.

The glasshouse would be built in three stages and house one million plants growing premium product year-round for the domestic market.

Mr Richards said that it would produce two per cent of the Australian fresh strawberry market.

He said the company had also developed 12 varieties in conjunction with Japanese breeders although not all varieties would be ready for commercialisation.

The project expands on Mecrus Group's existing strawberry farm in Officer and a research and development facility near Warragul.

Source: Latrobe Valley Express

New hydroponic strawberry glasshouse planned for Latrobe Valley

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The Australian Government has provided $3 million towards the glasshouse to be built by Mecrus Group, which trades as Gippsland Strawberries and Berry Sensation.

The glasshouse would be six times the size of the MCG.

It will cost $37 million, and will be capable of producing more than 2,000 tonnes of strawberries annually.

Mecrus Group already grows strawberries at Officer and Shady Creek near Warragul, east of Melbourne.

Managing director Barry Richards said more than 120 ongoing jobs will be created after the 12-hectare glasshouse is constructed.

The glasshouse will be built in the Latrobe Valley, a region which has lost hundreds of jobs after a power station closure.

New varieties

The Mecrus Group is about to release 12 new exclusive strawberry varieties following years of research at its Shady Creek site in West Gippsland.

"We spent a number of years overseas working with overseas breeders to try to find newer varieties of strawberries that have a much sweeter taste, more fragrance, a greater shelf life," Mr Richards said.

The first commercial variety to be released is called Desire.

"It has been out over the past year through our stalls at farmers markets and some fruiterers and proved very popular," Mr Richards said.

"It's a reasonably sweet, very red fruit."

Source: ABC Rural

Smart agriculture creation in South Korea

The South Korean government has announced plans to create 4,300 jobs in the smart agriculture industry by 2022.

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Training courses will be available from next year and will last for 20 months, with plans to create 600 professionals by 2022.

In addition, young farmers who complete the courses will be given government subsidies to open a smart farming business on 30 hectares of land that will be allotted to them, while agricultural loans at lower interest rates will be available for both new and experienced farmers.

Plans to build a smart farm test site are also underway where research projects, exhibitions and tests will take place to help enhance the competitiveness of South Korean smart farms.

Source: hortidaily.com

Alternative soil fumigant approved

A CZECH company has released an ozone friendly, broad spectrum soil fumigant to treat soil and control soil-borne diseases, nematodes and weeds in Australia. 

The Draslovka Group has received approval for its product, EDN Fumigas with the registration of Ethanedinitrile.

Australia is to be the first country in the world to approve the use of the fumigant as a pre-plant treatment for soil.

Developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia in 1996, the use of Ethanedinitrile as a fumigant was explored as a replacement for ozone-depleting methyl bromide.

Source: Good Fruit & Vegetables

Agriculture's labour shortfall confirmed

The 2018 Farm Workforce Survey, carried out by the National Farmers' Federation (NFF), has revealed the extent of the challenges agriculture faces when it comes to attracting the people power needed to drive productivity.

"Most farmers surveyed reported a significant shortfall of skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers during both peak and non-peak seasons, and substantial financial and productivity losses as a result of these shortfalls," NFF Workplace Relations & Legal Affairs Manager Ben Rogers said.

"The results also showed that the workforce needs of farmers can surge by as much as 500% during peak periods."

 Key results of 2018 Farm Workforce Survey, National Farmers Federation

Key results of 2018 Farm Workforce Survey, National Farmers Federation

Almost 90% of the respondents’ said their workforce was made up of permanent Australian residents. A little over 10% of farm labour was reported to be provided by migrant workers, such as 'backpackers' and participants of the seasonal worker programs.

Source: National Farmers Federation

Berries Australia's most valuable horticulture commodity

The combined value of berries production was Australia's top fresh horticulture produce category in terms of production value for the 2016-17 year.

It was worth was $866.6million, with strawberries making up $506.5m - citrus was the next highest category with a combined production value of $724.2m, while Almonds alone had a value of $553.6m.

Hort Innovation have released the Horticulture Statistics Handbook 2016/17, which found that 6.34 million tonnes of horticultural products were produced in Australia, with a value of production for all categories $12.9billion and a wholesale value of the fresh supply of $13.2b for the 2016-17 year. The Handbook, available here, includes data on more than 70 horticultural products including fruit, nuts, vegetables, nursery, turf and cut flowers and provides data on production, trade and market supply values and volumes by product.

A snapshot of the national strawberry industry as reported in the handbook includes:

  • 91,083 t was produced with 13% sent to be processed, predominantly in preserves.
  • The value of production was $506.5 m while the wholesale value of the fresh supply was $555.8 m.
  • 72% of Australian households purchased fresh strawberries, buying an average of 417 g per shopping trip.

Horticulture Produce Agreement deadline

Growers and traders currently operating through central markets must have a Horticulture Produce Agreement (HPA) in place by 1 April 2018. Failure to abide may result in a fine from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). 

Only a select few growers will be exempt, these include: organisations who sell directly to retailers, exporters, and processors. Most packhouses will also have to have compliant HPAs with their suppliers. 

Peak representative body for Queensland horticulture services, Growcom, has designed HPA templates to ensure smooth implementation. The templates have been designed for growers who choose to pursue either an agency or merchant style agreement with their wholesaler or packhouse. 

See here for further information on Growcom's HPA templates.

Source: www.freshplaza.com


Quality a main driver for Australia's horticultural exports

The main take-home message for delegates of ABARES Outlook 2018 conference in Canberra, was that meeting the expectations of consumers who are increasingly discerning about the quality of fresh produce is key to the ongoing competitiveness of Australia's horticultural industry. 

ABARES’ Senior Economist Dr Caroline Gunning-Trant said Australian horticultural producers are continuing to operate in a high-cost environment, but have a range of ways of distinguishing themselves from competitors. 

“Although we are not always able to compete on price, we can compete on quality, reliability and safety, which are food qualities in high demand in our export markets and which distinguishes us from a number of our competitors,” Dr Gunning-Trant said.

Source: www.freshplaza.com

Strawberry powder helping tackle the 'War on Waste'

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Queensland strawberry growers, Adrian and Amanda Schultz, have started a war on waste launching trials of the LuvaBerry Strawberry freeze dried powder. The Schultz’s say strawberries are such a perishable fruit, and every time it rains they have so much good quality fruit that has to be thrown out as it has slight damage, and no shelf life to send into supermarkets.

"Each year friends would give us trailers to fill and would say I can’t believe you are throwing this out," Amanda said. "So as a Naturopath and passionate about health and strawberries I thought we might be able to make a natural flavour and colouring for people to use. So LuvaBerry Strawberry powder and snacks began its trial in October 2017 post-harvest. So we now grow our strawberries, they go to freeze dry processing off the farm and we get them back in powder and snacks. From there we package them on the farm and have created a WOW product; war on waste."

The family, that includes Adrian’s parents Bob and Joy, grow about 200,000 strawberry plants which includes the Rubygem and American varieties Festival and Splendour across 8.5 acres. Their fresh strawberry season usually runs from May to October, however freeze-dried products have a long shelf life and can be purchased all year round.

"The strawberry industry has reached a problem of during the harvest and oversupply for a variety of reasons," she said. "As a result we are now often faced with having to throw out fruit either too small or ugly. The window of 'seconds market' has declined. So the powder enables us to provide an alternative, with all the flavour and colour plus the added health benefits of fresh strawberries."

Source: freshplaza.com

Popularity of greenhouse strawberries

Dutch greenhouse strawberries are gaining increasing popularity in various European countries, with a significant increase in demand from predominantly German markets this season.

Dutch fruit and veg supplier, Jeroen Hendrix, visited several German Wholesalers to observe the enthusiasm in the new season berries.

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"Both demand and price are generally very good. Besides, it's also a seasonal product with which you can differentiate yourself. Freshness, a large, full fruit and shelf life are very important."  he said. 

Hendrix believes the increase in popularity is primarily to do with transport routes being much shorter than other European countries. 

 "Of course the Spanish strawberries have the disadvantage that they have to come from farther away, having to stay fresh for longer. This often affects their look and taste. That makes the South European strawberries incomparable with ours." 

Source: www.hortidaily.com 

Seasonal occurrence of pests and beneficials in tunnel berries

In the United States, berry crops are increasingly produced in high tunnels, providing growers with the opportunity to extend their production season.  However, little is known about the effect of high tunnels on the community of pests, natural enemies, or pollinators, especially in berry crops.

A new study has compared the abundance of these insects during two growing seasons in field-grown and tunnel-grown floricane and primocane producing raspberries through direct observation and trapping at five sites in southwestern and central Michigan.

The study found eight key pests, including spotted wing Drosophila, leafhoppers, and thrips, and seven key natural enemies including parasitoid wasps, spiders, and lacewings, that were common across all sites. Pest populations were up to 6.6 times higher in tunnels, and pests typical of greenhouse systems became more dominant in this environment. Natural enemies observed on plants under tunnels were also more abundant than in the field, but this trend was reversed for natural enemies trapped on yellow sticky cards. There was also a reduction of both honey bees and wild bees under the high tunnels, which was balanced by use of commercial bumble bees.

These data not only provide much-needed information on the phenology of the insect community on raspberry plantings, they also highlight the entomological implications of protected raspberry culture.

Source: hortidaily.com

UK: Why are hoverflies so useful to strawberry growers?

In the UK, research has shown hoverflies benefit strawberry growers twice over because they control aphids and also pollinate flowers.

Insect pollinators are key to all commercial fruit production yet are known to be in decline, both in the UK and globally. They are thought to be responsible for around 45% of strawberry crop yields, worth some £100m a year in the UK, according to Defra.

They also enhance crop quality, with earlier studies showing strawberries pollinated by a range of wild bee species yield fruit with fewer malformations, lower sugar-acid ratios, a more intense red colour, heavier berry weight and longer shelf life than fruit from plants where pollinators were excluded.

"Gaining a clearer understanding of the species involved in this indispensable ecosystem service is paramount to ensuring that future strawberry harvests meet growing demands," according to the new study.


The study compared the performance of strawberries of the variety Finesse in field cages under three regimes:

  • Hand pollination, intended to give optimal pollination.
  • Insect-exclusion, where only self- or wind-pollination could occur.
  • Pollination by a mix of hoverfly species.

The results showed that hoverfly pollination yielded fruits with greater diameter, weight, number of fertilised achenes and fewer malformations. "These characteristics, in turn, meant that proportions of fruit that were marketable doubled from 29% in insect-excluded cages to 58.8% in hoverfly pollination cages," the study concludes.

"In addition to improving fruit quality, yields of strawberries increased by 73.1% when hoverflies were added to cages."

The study then also compared the individual effect of two so-called syrphine hoverflies, a sub-family that represents more than a third of the nearly 300 species of hoverfly native to the UK, known to eat aphids during the hoverflies’ larval stage but whose capacity to pollinate strawberries has been "largely untested".

The research is published the Journal of Pollination Ecology.

Source: Gavin McEwan, Horticulture Week