Article by: Hari Yellina
Prices are rising, consumer confidence is declining, and some consumers are speculating as to whether farmers are suddenly collecting huge paychecks. The family of Allan Fong has been engaged in the horticulture industry for about 60 years. He claimed that the situation for growers is worse now than it has ever been. “I honestly believe that I would prefer to be in my early 20s now than I do now when I think back to that time.” 140 acres of lettuce and cauliflower are grown at one of The Fresh Grower’s several farms in the Franklin area near Pukekawa. Although the sun was out today, the recent rains had left the ground wet. Numerous crops have been destroyed by wild weather, and picking baskets are now empty and scattered throughout the fields.
Unfortunately, the excessive rain caused a lot of bacterial disease to develop, which is why there is so much loss. As a result, we must avoid using quite a few hundreds of thousands of lettuces. Very little of their produce is exported these days because everything is hand-picked before being washed, packaged, and delivered to stores or home delivery food boxes. Many of their customers a few years ago came from the hospitality industry, then Covid-19 acquired almost all of their business. “We essentially lost up to or between 80 and 100 percent of our food service business, which includes cafes, restaurants, and hotels. As a result, the tourism industry was severely damaged, as were all related industries. Whenever a cafe or restaurant fails that in turn impacts on us.”
Allan claimed that they have been trying to fill positions but have had little luck and that they urgently need more employees for harvesting. We’ve had quite a few occasions over the last two years where we’ve had a lot of crop waste because we simply can’t move the produce off the fields since there aren’t many people applying, or practically none at all, and because our crops are planted and harvested every week. They rely on their large fleet of vehicles to harvest, spray, and transport their crops to markets. Diesel, which has increased by nearly 50 cents per litre since January, is used in all of the cars. They cannot reduce that, but they are currently experimenting with using less fertiliser. The cost of living is rising sharply.
“This year, there has been a 60–80% increase in fertilisers; a 25–30% increase in crop protection products; and an increase of up to 25% in diesel. Thus, they all have an effect on us. The diesel surcharges have increased our freight rates.” Although many consumers believe producers are raising their costs as a result of these overheads, that is not the case in this instance. However, bearing all the increased costs has repercussions. “Reducing production is the only thing we can do.” Because of the reduced quantity on the shelves, you might be paying extra at the register for your favourite vegetables. Even though it is particularly difficult right now, Allan has faith in his children to take over when he eventually slows down at age 65. “The younger generation, whether it be from our generation or from another, is resilient and smart, so you know they’ll succeed.”