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Squeezed by supermarkets

HOME GROWN: Cooloola Berries farmer Jason Lewis with his pick-your-own strawberries at Wolvi.PHOTO: GREG MILLER
HOME GROWN: Cooloola Berries farmer Jason Lewis with his pick-your-own strawberries at Wolvi.PHOTO: GREG MILLER

THIS year's strawberry season is winding down as the days warm up, but it has left some producers out of pocket.

Wolvi grower and Cooloola Berries operator Jason Lewis said their biggest hurdle was low prices offered by supermarkets.

He said $1 punnets were used as a customer drawcard, which made it difficult to compete with large corporations.

"One of the biggest problems we've had this year is customers buying cheap strawberries," he said.

"Even for me, it costs $1.30 (per punnet) to break even.

"Thirty five years ago my parents got more for a punnet than we do. That's how much prices have changed."

Small crops producer and Farmer and Sun proprietor Steve Waugh said it was not just strawberry growers hit by the low prices.

"There were a lot of cheap strawberries this year, but I've noticed even broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower and beans the prices have been down. It's unbelievable," he said.

Mr Waugh said supermarket giants' low prices make it difficult for farmers to push their prices up, but they still needed to find the money to cover production inputs.

Mr Lewis and his family work their 30,000-plant farm entirely alone and he said versatility was one of the keys to survival in the industry.

The farm has been operating for three generations, but low prices and increasing input costs are the reason why Mr Lewis and his

family have gone down the "pick-your-own" path, inviting customers on to the farm.

"We're just trying to do something different," Mr Lewis said. "You have to make your own decisions. By selling from the farm we can set our own price."

The Wolvi growers also have plans to sow blueberry seeds next year, but that will take around 18 months to establish.

Topics:  farming gympie produce strawberries

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