Supermarket warning: Fruit, veggie prices soar 30%

 

Fruit and vegetable prices at the checkout will surge up to 30 per cent this year on the back of severe farm labour shortages, according to shocking new figures.

The dire warning from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences follows the collapse in the number of overseas workers due to the closed international border.

The March quarter horticulture report forecasts the prices of summer vegetables, stone fruit, pome fruit, such as apples and pears, and table grapes will jump 7 to 29 per cent this year before falling again as labour shortages slash production.

Products with peak harvest periods from February to April including table grapes are expected to record the highest price rises however customers might not feel the pain "until well into autumn".

National Farmers Federation Horticulture Council chief executive Tyson Cattle said labour shortages were "only getting worse for our horticulture growers across the country".

"Our growers are in desperate need for harvest labour and have been for the better part of a year," he said.

He said even if the current vaccine roll out was successful, overseas worker numbers would continue to decline "as there is no end in sight on international borders reopening".

ABARES forecast the labour shortages would lead to fruit production plummeting 17 per cent while vegetable production would drop about 2 per cent. in 2020-21.

"Production is forecast to increase in 2021-22 and 2022-23 as constraints on the supply of overseas workers return to pre-COVID-19 levels," according to the report.

The report found the number of working holiday makers declined 64 per cent in 2020 from COVID containment measures at the international border.

Mr Cattle said growers preferred to employ locally but had failed to attract enough workers despite generous government incentives.

"Industry has been focused heavily on the seasonal worker program and Pacific labour scheme largely due to the lack of take up by domestic workers to look for roles within horticulture," he said.

The government would "struggle" to reach its goal of making agriculture a $100bn industry by 2030 if industry could not "access an efficient, competent and reliable workforce", he said.

The industry has been pushing federal and state governments to increase quarantine capacity and prioritise bringing in seasonal workers to increase production and keep prices down.

ABARES noted the challenges were also creating opportunities for the industry with robot harvesters getting closer to becoming commercially viable.

"If this technology becomes commercially viable it would help protect the industry against future labour shortages," according to ABARES.

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Originally published as Supermarket warning: Fruit, veggie prices soar 30%


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