RECORD SEASON: Japanese picker Yuya Inoue with farmer Ajit Singh Nurpuuri.
RECORD SEASON: Japanese picker Yuya Inoue with farmer Ajit Singh Nurpuuri.

A berry bright future

IT'S blue skies for an industry that is transforming the Coffs Coast.

Despite concerns a massive increase in plantings and supply would diminish prices, the local blueberry industry is growing by almost 30% a year - and prices are holding steady.

The OzGroup Co-operative is set to produce about 1.5 million trays this season, up more then 500,000 on last year.

General manager Kamaldeep Singh Clair said the co-operative involved 85 growers from Bonville to Halfway Creek.

"We haven't had many issues this season and everything is going to plan. We were a little later with fruit this month because of the colder weather but, other than that, we are on track for that 25% growth," Kamaldeep said.

He said while growers organise their own pickers, there would be an estimated 2000 pickers, including many backpackers, engaged at the moment.

"Here, at the back of house, we have about 25-30 people employed all year round and from July onwards that increases to about 85-90."

He said 75% of fruit was consigned to chain stores and the rest to restaurants and smaller retail outlets, but it's the potential to export to China, Japan and India that's exciting.

"Right now, that 25-30% growth is all in the domestic market and we could feasibly keep up with that growth for the next four to five years.

"We are definitely working on exporting. If just one of those countries opened up to exports, then we could double the industry here."

The season continues until late January-early February.



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