Article by: Hari Yellina
Consumers are being advised to expect cabbage in their burgers or to pay more than $10 for a lettuce, as there is no end in sight to the exorbitant cost of fruits and vegetables. While the price increase was swift, wholesalers believe it may take longer for prices to return to normal as producers face a ‘perfect storm’ of terrible weather. Wet weather in south-east Queensland caused growers to lose one crop and struggle to plant the next as cold temperatures came in, according to Anthony Joseph, a fruit and vegetable distributor and exporter. “Baby leaf spinach and wombok are three to four times their typical price,” he remarked.
Mr Joseph, the managing director of Alfred E. Chave at the Brisbane Markets, said the floods in February harmed land preparation for autumn and winter crops, resulting in the supply gap that has existed for the previous four to six weeks. Following the February flood, another disastrous rain event slammed the Lockyer Valley just as lettuce was about to be harvested, wiping away entire plantings. Mr Joseph, on the other hand, believes that the impending cold front will hinder farmers from immediately growing more food to alleviate the deficit. “What’s really worrying about this is that we’re getting these high-pressure systems as we approach into winter, and we’re going to have incredibly cold temperatures.”
“We’ve got a soggy and cold ground. Crops simply will not grow in these conditions.” Because of the rain-damaged crops and the cold-damaged plantings, wholesalers like Mr Joseph expect the shortage of fresh vegetables to linger at least another couple of months. Carlo Trimboli, chair of the NSW Chamber of Fresh Produce and managing director of Samson’s Fruit and Vegetable Supply, said high prices would remain as long as supply was short and demand was high. He estimated that his wholesale supply had plummeted by 80%. “It’s quite important,” he stated.
“While produce prices are high, the volume of produce that ordinarily passes through the central market system and on to retailers is significantly decreased.” While it’s tempting to believe that farmers and suppliers are benefiting from the high prices, the truth is that many simply don’t have any crops to offer. Mr Trimboli stated, “No one is truly benefiting.” “That’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” “Prices are strong, and some [farmers] are getting potentially high prices, but their volumes are low, and many farms have completely lost out on [a crop].” The Gasparin brothers, who live near Stanthorpe in southern Queensland, are three producers who have never seen their produce sell for such a high price.
Cauliflower and wombok lettuce, according to Andrew Gasparin, were selling for $10 each, or $80 each box. While it may appear to be a sudden increase to consumers, he claims that costs have been rising throughout the most of the season. “For the entire season, we probably averaged $40 a box,” he said. “I’d call it a typical season. We charge an average of $20 [each box].” But, like many other growers, the Gasparin brothers have had a difficult season. “We’ve spent a lot of days trudging through paddocks in gumboots, cutting veggies, walking through muck, and bogging tractors,” he said. “We’re getting at least twice as much as we would typically get, but we need our prices to rise immediately because all of our commodities have risen.”
“There have been significant price hikes in fertilisers, petrol, and even our packaging expenses have increased by 70 cents per unit.” So, even if the prices are excellent, if you are fortunate enough to have goods to sell, it costs more to cultivate, pack, and ship, meaning farmers like Mr Gasparin are not making any more money than they were a year ago. These expenses are high due to global reasons such as the crisis in Ukraine, making it difficult for Mr Gasparin to predict when they will decrease. “We’re not sure where things are going to go from here,” he remarked.