Queenslanders turn out in droves to support strawberry farmers

Farmer Liz Jarman has invested in a metal detector and sold all of her strawberries half way through Wednesday. Photo: Toby Crockford - Fairfax Media
Farmer Liz Jarman has invested in a metal detector and sold all of her strawberries half way through Wednesday. Photo: Toby Crockford - Fairfax Media

From the heart of Brisbane to the Moreton Bay region and Sunshine Coast, Queenslanders have turned out in droves to support embattled strawberry farmers despite recent needle sabotage cases.

Sunshine Coast producers, who travelled to Brisbane's Jan Powers Farmers Market on Wednesday, said they sold their strawberries in record time as loyal customers rallied around growers.

Customers at a Wamuran strawberry farm, north of Brisbane, queued for two hours on Wednesday and pickers struggled to keep up with the demand in a sign of supermarkets being bypassed.

Faith Jennings, who was one of those who waited for two hours, said the farm staff were picking strawberries from the field, putting them straight into boxes and giving them to waiting customers.

"At one point, 30-40 people were lined up waiting, and that's without those who were coming in to pick their own," Ms Jennings said.

”They were happy to pick their own or stand and wait, knowing the strawberries hadn’t been tampered with and were fresh off the farm.

“My sister and I got there about 11.15am and left about 1.30pm and there were still 30 or more people behind us still waiting to get their strawberries.

"We need to keep up the support and community spirit because it was just awesome to see.

"When I saw the strawberry dumping I wanted to cry because that’s people’s livelihoods and they spent years preparing, planting and taking care of those crops."

Paulo Rezende from Sunrise Farm in Mount Tamborine said Coles and Aldi withdrawing strawberries from shelves for a few days had seen sales go "crazy".

"We don’t supply to Coles, we just grow and sell at the markets and on our farm," he said.

"Our sales have increased by 25 per cent at the markets.

Mr Rezende said he had sold most of his strawberries by 2.30pm on Wednesday, when the produce would normally last all day.

He said news of the strawberry sabotage had reached his parents in Brazil.

Cars queue at a Wamuran strawberry farm for two hours on Wednesday. Photo: Faith Jennings - Facebook

Cars queue at a Wamuran strawberry farm for two hours on Wednesday. Photo: Faith Jennings - Facebook

Liz Jarman from Berry Sweet farm said she had sold out of strawberries by lunchtime.

She, along with several other Sunshine Coast producers, had taken the precaution of installing metal detectors on their conveyor belts to ease customers' concerns.

"They are installed at the end of pack benches, they are like miniature versions of the metal detectors at the airport, but they cost the same as a small car," she said.

Terry Toumpas from Rolin Farms said he had brought at least 700 kilograms of strawberries to Brisbane on Wednesday and had enjoyed an "incredible response" from customers.

"Normally that would do us until 5-5.30 in the afternoon and we were out by 1pm today," he said.

"Our fruit gets packed on the farm late-afternoon the day before it goes to market.

"The only truck it goes on is our own, so it’s not going to go through a transport company or anything, so there is no access to our fruit, other than for us."

A team of 100 police officers, including 60 detectives, is hunting for those responsible for Queensland's strawberry sabotage, which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk described as a "despicable crime" on Wednesday.

Ms Palaszczuk said copycat and fake reports were making an already difficult situation worse.

"The people copying this crime are in many ways worse than those who started it," she said.

"A crime scene on a very small number of farms affecting only a small number of products has spread to an entire industry.

"Police resources are wasted on false alarms."

The crisis began on Sunday, September 9, after a Queensland man ate a strawberry with a needle inside, followed by cases reported in Victoria.