Strawberry harvest of despair

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Gary McMahon, owner of The Strawberry Farm on Newell Rd, Tamahere, is watching his strawberry plants die at the time of the year he should be selling a bumper harvest.
Strawberry grower Gary McMahon
McMahon told the Waikato Times he had to take full responsibility for a disaster that has left him despairing after he accidentally sprayed his plants with herbicide rather than fungicide five weeks ago.

All but four of the 170 rows of the usually plump, juicy strawberries have been affected, the paper reported.

Mr McMahon, who sprays his crops twice a week, said the accident happened after he went into his shed to grab what he thought he was fungicide.

Unbeknown to him, the one-litre container of fungicide had been emptied and the fungicide somehow replaced with the weedkiller herbicide.

“I spray with fungicide once or twice a week. It was a one-litre container that had been sitting there for about 12 months and picked it up and thought I need to use that and went and sprayed the whole lot.”

About three days later he noticed the fruit going white and not ripening. He put that down to the cold weather until the leaves started going limp.

“The day I came out here and saw them all zonked it was a pretty bad day.”

In fact, that day turned into a week from hell as he went off food and sleep, shedding 2.5kg through stress in the process.

As the effects of the accident sank in, customers were also beginning to ask questions.

Mr McMahon admitted he initially couldn’t tell his customers the truth because he was afraid of losing them.

However, rumours began to surface in the industry and resulted in Mr McMahon talking publicly about the issue. Some industry insiders had spoken of sabotage others of a financial cost reaching $200,000.

“Financially, it’s been very stressful for us…you hang out all winter with no income, waiting for November, December, January and February and you’ve spent all the money to plant (your crop) about $35,000 to $40,000 and then expect to get an income in the summer to compensate and profit from.”

He couldn’t have thought of a worse year for it to happen as the current financial crisis takes hold.

Mr McMahon said he accepted full responsibility.

“It was simply human error.”

Despite having to buy fruit in to sell, the family are thankful their shop has continued to do well and sell their fruit icecream.

(Photo by Waikato Times photographer Peter Drury)

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