Australian strawberry producer Piñata Farms will produce substrate strawberries in polytunnels at its Wamuran farm on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for the first time this winter.
Substrate strawberries are produced in a coconut husk growing medium, in bags on tiered shelves raised off the ground.
While commercial substrate production is in its infancy in Australia, Piñata’s managing director Gavin Scurr believes it will become widespread in the next 10 years.
“Set-up costs for substrate and polytunnel production are extremely high,” Scurr said. “However, we've decided to make the move now, so when the rest of the industry goes that way, we will have already trialled and refined these methods.”
Scurr said Piñata Farms had invested more than A$1m in erecting 1.5ha of polytunnels at Wamuran and another eight hectares at its summer production hub in Stanthorpe, southern Queensland.
Approximately 60 per cent of strawberries within the new polytunnels at Wamuran will be trialled using the substrate method this season. Scurr said he expected substrate harvesting to be up to 40 per cent faster than field-grown picking.
"This winter, we'll be trialling all the varieties we currently grow to see which performs best in the tunnel environment," Scurr said.
"Substrate production takes the ground out of play, so plants won't be waterlogged or susceptible to soil-borne pests and diseases. It's a sterile environment which should result in a more uniform crop."
While substrate strawberry production is currently minimal in Australia, its use is widespread in other parts of the world such as Europe due to degradation of soils.
Winter harvesting of field-grown fruit began at the Wamuran farm in May. Harvesting is expected to reach full production in August, continuing through until October. Piñata Farms will pack approximately 140,000 punnets a day during the peak period - a 15 per cent increase on last year's output.