Strawberry land and climate requirements
Setting up a strawberry farm that will be profitable in the long term requires careful planning and the right site. The following information will help you determine if your property has the right land and climate for growing strawberries.
Sandy loam or light clay soils are best. There should be no heavy clay or rock within 300 mm of the surface. On sandy soils, it is difficult to maintain the supply of water and nutrients the plants need. Heavy clay soils stay too wet after rain, increasing the risk of disease and reducing yields.
Strawberries can be grown anywhere in Queensland, but the warmer coastal areas of South East Queensland are preferred for commercial production. These areas allow winter and early spring production when there is little competition from other growing areas in Australia.
Take care in the hotter climate of Central and North Queensland as some varieties perform poorly when growing conditions are too warm. This is less of a problem in the cooler conditions of the Atherton Tableland.
Colder inland areas of southern Queensland are suitable, but the cropping period is shorter and confined more to spring and early summer. This reduces potential profitability as this fruit competes with that from southern Australian states, which is grown at lower a cost.
In all areas where frosts are likely during flowering, an overhead sprinkler watering system and frost alarm are necessary to prevent damage to flowers and fruit. Frost-free sites are preferred because additional overhead sprinkling increases the risk of washing pesticides off the leaves and leaching fertiliser out of the root zone.
North-east to north-west facing slopes are best as these are warmer in winter and better protected from winds. Windbreaks are recommended for all farms, but are essential for slopes facing south or west to avoid plant and fruit damage.
In theory, slopes of up to 15% are suitable provided the farm layout is designed to minimise erosion. However, steeper slopes present a major erosion risk, make it difficult to operate machinery safely and increase costs. Almost all production is on flat or gently sloping frost free sites.
A reliable supply of good quality water for irrigation is essential. A reserve of about 6 megalitres per hectare (125 litres per plant) is recommended. Strawberries can be severely damaged by salty water so avoid water with an electrical conductivity above 600 microSiemens per centimetre (µS/cm).
Proximity to transport and markets
As strawberries are easily damaged, consider where you might market your fruit and how it will be transported. Use refrigerated transport for strawberries to maintain fruit quality. It is no accident that the main areas of commercial production are close to the major cities or refrigerated interstate transport services.