Being able to eat large, succulent strawberries may become a pleasure of the past, as the popular fruit is the latest victim of a changing climate.
- Warm overnight temperatures are contributing to smaller strawberries
- Smaller strawberries are more expensive to pick
- Consumers may need to adapt to buying smaller fruit
It’s not cold weather causing the strawberries to shrink, but rather warmer temperatures.
And as smaller strawberries take longer to pick, production costs are rising along with temperatures — which means lower returns for farmers and could lead to a price hike at the checkout for consumers.
The principal horticulturist at Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Christopher Menzel, said field tests at the Nambour research centre showed that as air temperatures rose the size of the fruit dropped.
“With [climate change] even here at Nambour the records show the night temperatures have gone up by about 3 degrees over the past 50 to 60 years, which is quite significant,” he said.
“The size of the fruit is very sensitive to temperatures.
Smaller fruit, high costs
For strawberry farmers, the shrinking fruit is also likely to mean a shrinking payday.
“A plant with small fruit is a lot more expensive to pick than a plant with large fruit,” Mr Menzel said.
“Towards the end of the season, it might take you four times [the initial time] to pick the fruit than it did earlier in the season.”
The strawberry sales manager at the Brisbane wholesale markets outlet Fabco, Katrina Carpenter, said it was an issue they were already seeing.
“Because [strawberries that are] mediums are generally half the price of an extra-large, you get a lot more medium fruit, so you sell a lot more of that.”
The study and anecdotal evidence matched research around the world, which Mr Menzel said could mean all strawberry-growing regions would face similar problems.
“There have been studies done in California that say without better varieties or new technology, yields in the next 50 years in California will fall by about 10 to 40 per cent as to what they are now,” he said.
Farmers will need to adapt
While climate change is causing an inevitable impact on strawberry production, Mr Menzel is optimistic the industry will adapt even if it might take a while.
Research is already being done on improving heat-resistant varieties at Bundaberg, but it could take 10 to 20 years for selective breeding to produce a new option.
Until then, big strawberries might appear on the shelves slightly earlier than in previous years.
Mr Menzel said, for now, farmers could plant earlier in the year to still get the desired sized fruit before the heat arrived.
“That means they’ll get a higher proportion of their fruit before the warm weather arrives in early summer,” he said.
“And so that can mitigate some of the effects of warm weather on fruit production.”