Waikato Berry Farm Expecting Influx Of Visitors Due To Strawberry Picker Shortage

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Strawberries may be harder to come by on supermarket shelves this year due to an expected shortage of pickers, so a Waikato berry farm is gearing up for a big influx of Kiwis wanting to pick their own.

Whatawhata Berry Farm, located five minutes from Hamilton on the Raglan Road will open for the summer this Friday (23 October) and is expecting record crowds during the strawberry picking season, which runs from now until late March or Easter if demand exists.

Owner Darien McFadden says commercial growers are deeply concerned there won’t be enough overseas RSE workers or those on Working Holiday Visas to pick this year’s crop, leaving fruit to go to waste and creating supply and demand issues for both export and domestic markets.

“The situation could well make strawberries more expensive and harder to come by in the supermarket this year,” he says. “But the answer is to head straight to your local berry farm and pick them yourself. For many Kiwi families it’s become a tradition in the lead up to Christmas, and we’re certainly looking forward to welcoming people at Whatawhata Berry Farm from Labour Weekend onwards.”

McFadden says this year’s crop is of “exceptional quality” and his commercial growing operation, Strawberry Fields, is receiving export enquiries from the US and Canada who specifically want New Zealand-grown berries thanks to our clean, green, Covid-free status.

“All fruit and vegetable exporters are in the same position right now – demand is certainly there thanks to our incredible Covid response. Our produce has never been more sought-after. But the difficulty is ensuring we have enough workers to carry out the harvest, and then to secure air freight space which is now at a premium thanks to severely reduced airline schedules.”

Whatawhata Berry Farm is going the extra mile to deliver a healthy, sustainable product by reducing their environmental impact as much as possible.

“We place a big emphasis on using recyclable packaging and biodegradable Pick Your Own boxes instead of plastic ones. We also use predator insects, beneficial fungi and bacteria to promote plant health, and cultural practices such as hand-weeding and removing any rotten berries immediately to reduce agrichemical dependence.

“Everything from our biologically-activated waste-water system to our products in-store, is done with environmental best-practice in mind. Our reputation for excellence, plus all the add-ons we offer, means we’re expecting more visitors this summer than we’ve ever had before!”

McFadden says it’s hard to predict exactly how this year’s strawberry season will play out price-wise but knows people will always get value for money – and a terrific Kiwiana experience from local berry farms.

“It’s a great day out for everyone and Whatawhata Berry Farm provides a lot of entertainment and atmosphere. As well as selling premium, pre-packed and PYO strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and boysenberries, we have a fantastic space with local artwork, hammocks and enormous bean bags to sit in the sun and relax.

“Kids can take on our kiwi bird treasure hunt challenge, play with our giant chess and checkers sets and have fun in the sand pit. Of course, a visit isn’t complete without trying our famous real-fruit ice-creams. We’ve been making them for 20 years and have our own secret recipe – you can’t beat them!”

From this weekend onward, the Whatawhata Berry Farm will be open Tues-Sunday from 10am – 6pm at 1099 Whatawhata Road, Hamilton.

Visit their website at www.whatawhataberryfarm.com

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