BerryQuest 2013 — A huge success

August 13, 2014

The cross industry berry conference “BerryQuest” was held at the Foothills Conference Centre in Mooroolbark during the second week of October. BerryQuest is the hallmark conference event of the national strawberry, raspberry and blackberry, and blueberry industries.

The conference was well attended, with in excess of 180 delegates attending various presentations, workshops and field days through the week. Delegates were also able to discuss emerging technology and products with the large number of trade exhibitors present.

The conference commenced with field tours where the attendees were split into two groups, one looking at strawberry production, and the other raspberry, blackberry and blueberry production. Those on the field tours got to see and hear about nursery propagation, innovating production methods and value adding to the harvested produce. This also allowed delegates to see the production environment of the Yarra Valley and understand some of its challenges.

The conference was officially opened on the second day by Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture and Food Security and Minister of Water, Peter Walsh. Minister Walsh spoke about the importance of the berry industries and horticulture as a whole in Victoria and Australia.

Victorian Minister for Agriculture and Food Security and Minister of Water, Peter Walsh (left) with Strawberries Australia President Sam Violi (right)

Following Minister Walsh, Professor Adam Dale from the University of Guelph, Canada, provided the conference with a good grounding in production trends of berries and how he sees berry production changing into the future. Adam also spoke of the need for Australian berry growers to differentiate their product and find new niche markets as a supplier of premium produce, as it is going to be extremely difficult for Australian producers to compete on the global stage given the high labour rates in Australia.

Professor Adam Dale from the University of Guelph, Canada

Stuart Burgess (HAL) discussed with delegates the need for product differentiation and how doing so can make Australian produced berries more appealing within the booming Asian marketplace. The key message is that we as an industry need to be smarter about the way we grow, package and market our fruit not, only internationally but also within Australia.

Following the broader discussions and presentations, Dr Dean Metcalf talked about using naturally occurring parasitic fungi species to control foliage, fruit and soil borne pathogens. Dean has achieved great results in other crops; however, as with all biological control, getting the product into the fields before disease is present is the key to successful control.

With the changes that have been occurring throughout southern Australia regarding the management of Queensland Fruit Fly (Qfly), renowned entomologist Andrew Jessup discussed with delegates the practical management of Qfly across eastern Australia.

Richard Bennett (HAL) was the last of the cross industry speakers addressing the industries on production related matters. Richard discussed with delegates the need for quality assurance schemes and the trends in their development. During this Richard touched on numerous historical cases of illness caused by contamination of various berry types. He also discussed the need to have a management plan for when things go wrong.<br />
After the cross industry production program the delegates split into their respective industry groups for workshops and discussion programs on industry specific issues and topics. In general these workshops centred around the production of each berry type under modified systems so as to produce top quality berries irrespective of the natural environmental conditions.

The following day, delegates were again combined with the day dedicated to market development and innovation. Delegates had the opportunity to participate in open discussion forums, one of which centred on the possibility of using machine harvesting for berries and the development of such systems in Australia. The second forum discussed the development of markets and marketing co-operatives, with an emphasis on giving power back to grower groups.

Professor David Hughes spoke to the combined group about the trends he has been observing in berry marketing and retail across the world, particularly in Europe. He discussed where he sees berry retailing going in Australia and the implications this may have for the local industries. Of interest was the fact that the retail prices for raspberries, blackberries and blueberries in Australia are some of the highest in the world.

Professor David Hughes addressing delegates

Dr Mary Ann Lila’s presentation had the title “How Berryfruits earned the spotlight for human health protection”. Mary Ann assumed that we all know about the health benefits of high anti-oxidants in berries so she presented new research about the impact of berryfruit bioactives in helping people manage obesity, type two diabetes and improve muscle recovery times, even for elite athletes.

Dr Mary Ann Lila discussing with delegates the health benefits of berries

The conference organising committee and the three peak industry bodies (Strawberries Australia Inc., Raspberries and Blackberries Australia Inc., and Australian Blueberry Growers Association) wish to thank all the delegates that attended the conference. They would also like to thank the conference sponsors and Horticulture Australia Limited as without their support the conference would not have occurred.