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REVEALED: Why our fruit and vegie prices are about to rise

Hal's Fruit World lessee Mark Watson is afraid he won't be able to compete against major supermarkets when wholesale produce prices increase.
Hal's Fruit World lessee Mark Watson is afraid he won't be able to compete against major supermarkets when wholesale produce prices increase. Jarred Sferruzzi

RECOVERY efforts from Cyclone Debbie are well under way in the Mackay region, but for farmers and sellers, the headache's only just begun.

As growers lick their wounds after the storm swept through, independent fruit and vegetable shops will be hit with wholesale price increases that major supermarkets are unlikely to face.

Debbie caused havoc in some of the state's prime agricultural areas and it's estimated 95% of the capsicums and tomatoes consumed in winter come from the region, along with huge volumes of beans and zucchinis.

Hal's Fruit World lessee Mark Watson, who remained open almost every day during the cyclone, said he'll start feeling the impacts straight away.

"We'll see price increases immediately because Bundaberg was smashed and that's where we're getting our product from now," Mr Watson said.

"Pretty much everything will see a price increase, all your rock melons, your tomatos, lettuce.

"In the next couple of months there'll be a lot of southern produce coming up."

 

Have you noticed an increase in fruit and vegetable prices since Cyclone Debbie?

This poll ended on 19 April 2017.

Yes - 50%

No - 50%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

 

While Mr Watson buys the majority of his products from farmers in Queensland and has agreements with them, that only sets a yearly price, which can fluctuate depending on conditions.

"If the supply is low, they'll charge more," he said.

"Pretty much the farmer sets the price. I can bargain a bit, but I don't like to too much as they've got to make a living too."

This differs to major supermarkets which have much larger buying power and existing long-term supply agreements which guarantee market prices.

While produce prices are expected to increase for everyone, Mr Watson believed the supply agreements would mean growers could not raise the wholesale price to make up for lost crops.

When asked about its supply agreements and changes in wholesale prices, in an email response a Woolworths spokesperson said they "work closely with our local growers and suppliers throughout the year and will continue to do so to evaluate any flow on impacts to supply following the recent weather events in central Queensland."

Hal's Food World currently purchases a head of iceberg lettuce for $5 and sells it for $5.99. As of Sunday, Woolworths online sells a head for $3.90.

CEO of leading industry body representing vegetable growers Ausveg, James Whiteside, said while retail prices are naturally affected by supply and demand, now more than ever Australians need to buy locally-grown produce.

"With growers facing a massive clean-up bill in the wake of this catastrophic weather event, it will make a huge difference if consumers commit to buying Australian-grown fruit and vegetables," Mr Whiteside said.

However, for Mr Watson, while he'd like to believe people would be interested in his locally bought produce, he knows costs are a factor.

"I'm absolutely afraid wholesale price increases might turn people away," he said.

"I have a set margin that I price everything to and I hardly ever go above or below that.

"It's because they've (supermarkets) got that set price all year round, farmers have to sell to them no matter what the market does."

Topics:  ausveg cyclone debbie farmer fruit grower independent vegetable woolworths

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