From breeding work to deliver improved, locally-adapted strawberry varieties to key industry development activities, Hort Innovation continues to invest the strawberry levy in a range of projects. Read more in the R&D snapshot below.

INDUSTRY UPDATE

Since the last edition of Hortlink, the strawberry Strategic Investment Advisory Panel (SIAP) has been announced, with details available on Hort Innovation’s Strawberry grower page. The selection process for appointing an independent chair for the SIAP has also recently been completed, with information on the chair to be made available on the grower page shortly.

The Strategic Investment Plan

A Strategic Investment Plan (SIP) is the roadmap that helps ensure levy investment decisions align with individual industry priorities. It is used to guide decision-making in levy spending, and represents a balanced view of stakeholders in the industry.

Hort Innovation is currently consulting with growers and other industry stakeholders to finalise new SIPs for each industry by the end of the calendar year.

To learn more about the SIP process, visit Hort Innovation’s SIP Portal.

Any questions?

As well as the Strawberry grower page, Hort Innovation Relationship Manager Bradley Mills is always available to answer questions on the strawberry program.

R&D SNAPSHOT

NEW, ONGOING AND COMPLETED PROJECTS FOR THE INDUSTRY

Facilitating the development of the Australian strawberry industry – national oversight and communications (BS15002)

Status: Ongoing project

 

What’s it all about? Established earlier in 2016, this project has a focus on facilitating the adoption of innovation and R&D within the strawberry industry through key communication channels.

It is linked to projects Facilitating the development of the Australian strawberry industry – sub-tropical regional delivery (BS15003) and Facilitating the development of the Australian strawberry industry – temperate regional delivery (BS15004). Combined, the development program is geared towards improving knowledge and skills, and supporting practice change to ensure the profitability and sustainability of the industry.

What’s the latest update? In its initial stage, the national project has had a focus on establishing and formalising communication channels to ensure industry news, R&D outputs and other key information is delivered effectively to growers and other stakeholders.

  • The new Strawberry Innovation website has been developed and launched: www.strawberryinnovation.com
  • Quarterly industry newsletter Simply Red has been overhauled – once tailored just to Queensland growers, the scope has been expanded to national, and the publication has had a redesign. See the current and past editions here.
  • Monthly e-newsletter The Punnet continues to be distributed.

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The new Strawberry Innovation website (above) and the September edition of Simply Red (below)

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National strawberry varietal improvement program (BS12021) 

Status: Ongoing project

What’s it all about? To ensure the Australian strawberry industry has access to improved, locally-adapted varieties into the future, Hort Innovation is continuing to undertake breeding for targeted environments under the national breeding project with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Forestry (DAF). Established in 2012, this project aims to:

  • Expand the application of quantitative genetics to estimate breeding values and selection of parents, with an emphasis on increasing fruit size and early yield
  • Identify and incorporate resistance to wilt diseases
  • Integrate and extend analysis of the economic significance of traits to ensure the most economically beneficial traits are the focus
  • Boost consumer satisfaction.

What’s the latest update? No new milestone report was due in the period since the last edition of Hortlink (Winter 2016). To date the project has delivered new cultivar Red Rhapsody, and at the time of last reporting, two other cultivars were in the final stages of commercialisation for sub-tropical environments.

Plants of a further three genotypes had been entered into test production in collaboration with four accredited runner growers (two in Victoria, two in Queensland) for temperate environments, and trials had also been established in Western Australia.

Likely high levels of resistance to Macrophomina and Colletotrichum had been identified to combine with Fusarium resistance, and a need for further trialling was identified.

 

Developing virus molecular diagnostics for post entry quarantine and certification of strawberry runners (BS12009)

Status: Completed project

What was it all about? Starting at the beginning of 2013, this three-year project was largely funded by voluntary contributions, with some levy funding. It focused on the biosecurity of the Australian strawberry industry, with the development of improved tools to underpin quarantine access to planting material, and supporting the certification of strawberry runners.

It resulted in the production of a draft diagnostic manual, submitted for review and subsequent endorsement by the National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic Network and to be integrated into the Victorian Strawberry Industry Certification Authority scheme.

The methods for pathogen detection include:

  • Visual observations
  • Biological indexing onto sensitive indicator plants
  • Culturing onto agar plates for fungal and bacterial pathogens
  • Molecular methods such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and reverse transcription (RT)-PCR tests.

The manual incorporates information of horticulture practices to support biological indexing of viruses and fungi, gives guidance on optimal sampling and testing procedures with respect to cool temperate and sub-tropical climates, and gives specific protocols for a range of pathogens.

Full details can be found in the project’s final report, which will be available to order at http://horticulture.com.au/about/resources-publications-final-reports (final reports are free to Australian horticulture levy payers, registered Hort Innovation members and industry representative bodies).

GROWER PROFILE

NATHAN BARONIO, EASTERN COLOUR, QLD

From protective cropping to substrate-based growing, mainland strawberry grower Nathan Baronio is keen to explore every avenue in the search for more efficient and environmentally sustainable practices.

“My family has always invested in the idea that businesses need to keep changing with the times,” Nathan said. And change Eastern Colour certainly has. The business, based in Stanthorpe, was once one of the largest broccoli producers in Australia, before moving into capsicums, then stonefruit and apples.

“In about 2012 we noticed horticulture in Stanthorpe was starting to pivot again, and that there was a lot of success in strawberries. We saw the fruit as the future of farming in the area, and wanted to be a part of that,” Nathan said.

The Baronios joined forces with business partner Paul Dydula, growing their first block of strawberries in 2014. And it was during this first year that they dipped their toes into protective cropping for the fruit.

“Protective cropping for strawberries isn’t common at all on mainland Australia, but we were very interested in it. Particularly coming from an apple-growing background, where hail netting was imperative, protective cropping was an easy concept for us to get behind for strawberries,” Nathan said. “We did a four-acre trial in our first season and it worked really well. Today the business grows 1.4 million strawberry plants over 70 acres, and by the end of the 2017/18 season we hope to have 75 per cent of that under polytunnels.”

Nathan said that strawberry growers have plenty of opportunities to innovate in their businesses and try new things. “But you obviously can’t take up every opportunity, you’ve got to find what really excites you. For me – and my brother Stephen, who helps drive a lot of our business’s innovation – that’s been the protective cropping, as well as substrate strawberries, which we’re now moving towards. We hope to be one of the major producers and real leaders in this space.”

This season Eastern Colour is running a one-hectare substrate trial, and aims to have about 10 hectares of substrate strawberries going into the 2017/18 season. “The approach is similar to hydroponics, but we’re growing in a cocopeat substrate. It’s a system our business partner, Paul, helped develop for Australia,” Nathan said.

Nathan said some of the key benefits of substrate growing will be the reduction in labour and the improvement in working conditions for employees. “There’s a shortage of seasonal workers in Australia – particularly out in Stanthorpe, which is a small country town two-and-a-half hours from a major city – so it’s hard to find enough workers. I believe that just as farms invest in equipment and R&D and new varieties, they need to invest in the workplace for employees. The better the workplace, the happier the employees, the more you can achieve – and substrate growing is going to help take us in this direction,” he said.

“We’ve had plenty of interest from other growers, from our customers and from neighbours, too. It’s all very exciting.”

Another thing Nathan finds exciting is the collective power of the Australian strawberry industry when it comes to R&D. “I was having a look at the Hort Innovation annual report, Breaking New Ground, and I was blown away that the industry’s R&D program for 2015/16 was worth almost $1.8 million. It just goes to show there’s a lot going into it, which is really, really encouraging.”

As well as investment in varietal work, Nathan said he is pleased to see the industry’s strong communication program (“I love the whole Simply Red newsletter and Strawberry Innovation is fantastic”), and is eager to see and implement work into biological controls and beneficial programs for pests.

“I’d also love to see the industry going full-heartedly at attaining an access protocol for China. That market is a huge opportunity. We grow all this beautiful produce, but Australia’s population is limited, so it would be great to see us expand into this international market,” he said.

Whatever happens, Nathan is looking forward to seeing his industry and his business grow. “With strawberries, everything is so immediate. Unlike, say, apples, where you plant a tree and have to wait a number of years to see results, with strawberries you can constantly try new things. It all happens so quickly and it’s so intense, in a great way.”

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