Australian berry industry preparing to host biggest ever conference

The Australian berry industry is preparing to welcome representatives from around the world, as it strengthens its export growth and potential.

Raspberries and Blackberries Australia (RABA) Executive Officer Jonathan Eccles says the global element to February’s BerryQuest International 2018, goes beyond just having speakers and guests from overseas across the four major berry categories; strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.

"The berry industry has grown in the past 10 years to the point where we have interest from local growers in exporting and the keen interest from overseas markets," Mr Eccles said. "So that's where the theme for the conference comes from. We've got over 35 exhibitors and so far our attendance is reaching 320, which makes it the biggest berry conference ever held in Australia."

Representatives will travel from the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, New Zealand, Korea, and China, and with the berry season in full swing, there will be plenty of in-season berries for attendees to enjoy. However, Mr Eccles admits that it has been a tough season for raspberry and blackberry growers during summer.

"The summer season, which starts in November, started off pretty well then we got this horrendous hot weather," he said. "It was surprising how humid it was and that caused problems itself. There were also some very hot days of 40 degrees, which slows down the productivity of the plants. It doesn't seem to be over yet with the heat still hitting us this week."

It is not just the heat that has affected the berries, with diseases such as grey mould. Bugs such as myriads have been damaging fruit while trying to seek shelter from the heat in the crops. They also become contaminants in the punnets.

But the RABA Executive Officer says that the effects felt by these incidents are balanced out by an increase in production across the board.

"What we have seen is a slight reduction in the first grade quality fruit," Mr Eccles said. "Because the fruit comes on so quickly, if we get a few cool days, it bounces back fairly quickly. So it is not like we have any long term impact from those few hot days. Overall growers have kept up with quality due to the increase in production from previous years. Most crops are now grown undercover which helps protect from rain and thunderstorms."

Demand for raspberries and blackberries from Australian consumers continues to grow according to Mr Eccles. Blackberries in particular are undersupplied but new varieties will help to meet consumer demand.

"More consumers are seeing blackberries appear in the stores in areas where once they were never seen," he said "Consumers are always looking for something new. Consumer demand has been helped with raspberries now being seen on the shelves all year round - we have nearly 12 months of production, with the northern areas coming in in winter that complements the main summer period further south. The other thing driving demand is supermarkets putting raspberries and blackberries at the front of the produce store. There is also the health benefits and versatility of the berries as well".

BerryQuest International 2018 will be held at the Country Club Tasmania in Launceston from 12-15 February. For more information: 

Jonathan Eccles
Raspberries and Blackberries Australia
Phone: +61 407 242 757

Publication date: 1/31/2018
Author: Matthew Russell