Wayne Wellman from Sunray Strawberries at the Nanango markets on Saturday.
Wayne Wellman from Sunray Strawberries at the Nanango markets on Saturday. Matt Collins

Strawberry farmers describe damage caused by needle crisis

THE actions of a disgruntled strawberry picker who placed needles in strawberries, has lead to dire consequences for the strawberry industry and many of our strawberry farmers.

Wayne Wellman from Wamuran's Sunray Strawberries spoke with The South Burnett Times at the Nanango markets recently and said they had been hit hard.

"We pretty much threw out tonnes and tonnes of berries,” he said.

"There were tipper loads.

"It was our best season too, so we were throwing away a-grade strawberries.”

Mr Wellman, who sells strawberries at various market stalls throughout South East Queensland, said the farmers were restricted by the large multi-nationals.

"After the issues with the needles, Coles and Woolworths said 'we don't want your strawberries, people don't want them and we are not going to run at a loss',” he said.

It wasn't long before the large supermarkets worked out a compromise with the farmers.

"They said unless we started running metal detectors over the fruit, they didn't want a bar of it,” he said.

But it was the smaller farmers who have been hit the hardest and sadly, for some, they weren't able to come back from the disastrous event.

"I know a lot of farmers who have shut down,” Mr Wellman said.

"It's happened everywhere, I have heard of a lot around the Sunshine Coast. So you can imagine it happened everywhere else.”

However, Mr Wellman said there was a silver lining to the spate of bad news experienced by the strawberry farmers.

"It boomed for us at the markets,” Mr Wellman said.

"There was so much support for the farmers, especially with all the drought we had.”

Thankfully, Mr Wellman said he has noticed the industry is starting to gain popularity again.

"Coles and Woolies are taking our strawberries again,” he said.

Mr Wellman was unsure what, if any, repercussions had come to the worker who allegedly spiked the fruit, but he said he had a different focus.

"I was more worried about the kids eating them,” he said.

South Burnett

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