Devastated farmers say latest NSW floods likely to raise fruit and vegetable prices further

The catastrophic weather in New South Wales is likely to come back to bite at the supermarket checkout, with peak farming bodies warning the floods will put further strain on supply chains.

The NSW Farmers president, James Jackson, said he would be “most surprised” if inflationary pressures did not result from the ongoing floods.

“I’ve had multiple reports lettuces being sold at $12 were contracted at two or three,” he said.

Jackson said turf growers would be the hardest hit by the extreme weather event, while leafy vegetable growers in the Hawkesbury-Nepean region would also be affected.

“The cooler, wet weather will also delay the maturity of crops in the Lockyer Valley and up into Queensland. I suspect there’ll be supply pinches with a lot of leafy vegetables right into spring,” he said.

For producers in the Sydney basin and Hunter region, Jackson said the current floods were “soul destroying”.

“Paddocks are absolutely soaked if they’re not underwater, and safety must be the priority as people move around their farms and regions,” he said.

Jackson said unless contracts with supermarkets were increased, supply shortfalls were inevitable.

“For them to get out of bed in the morning it has to be profitable,” he said. “Horticulture is in a perfect storm, with international supply chain pressures, labour shortfalls … nobody plants crops unless there’s someone there to harvest them. It’s terribly difficult.”

Greater Sydney’s horticulture industry has shrunk in size in recent decades, and is now considered small scale.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean region contributes $61m to annual vegetable production, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data found, while 480 agricultural businesses remain registered in the greater Sydney region.

Shaun Lindhe, the national manager of communications for AusVeg, said it was too early to tell what the long-term impacts of the floods would be, however growers across the country were already grappling with “severe increases” in cost production.

“From a cost perspective it’s really hard, a lot of businesses are facing pressure with the rising cost of production,” he said. “To be facing another lot of floods is quite devastating.”

A Coles spokesperson said all stores in flood-affected areas remained open and there had been no major impact to stock yet, while a Woolworths spokesperson said it was “difficult to fully assess the situation” as the floods were ongoing.

An Aldi spokesperson said it was “too early to predict” the extent of the damage and the situation was being monitored.

Warren Waddell is the chair of NSW Farmers’ greater Sydney horticulture branch, a region spanning from the Hawkesbury-Nepean to Cumberland. The son of a stone-fruit grower, Waddell is into his ninth farming season and has been hit with different pressures every time.

“Every year has had a new set of challenges where there’s been a loss of some sort and I’ve just learned from it,” he said.

“You can’t do anything but ignore what you’re feeling and get out there again, [but there’s] certainly some desperation in some of the voices of people I’ve spoken to.”

Waddell said while farmers in the area had “great resilience”, they had suffered from multiple significant weather events and it would take some time for the local industry to get back on its feet.

“If you’re a grower on the river systems you enjoy some benefit of having water nearby, but the benefit has turned into somewhat of a disaster with three flood events in 18 months or less,” he said.

Waddell said there were obvious visual impacts of floods – orchards and farms going underwater. Then there was the ongoing legacy of overly full soil and no capacity to access the land to protect it.

“The ground we grow on – even in higher areas – it hasn’t dried out from the last floods. We’ve got trees that haven’t had a dry root system for eight months. This could kill them and take years to re-establish,” he said.

“I rang a citrus grower who’s only just getting over his last crop being lost … if he doesn’t get damaged fruit off it won’t reflower and recrop for the next season, so he’s lost two crops.

“Next season will be impacted even if we have good conditions from now on.”

Waddell said most growers nowadays were part of a multigenerational family – you don’t do it for the money, but because you love it.

“If it’s not flooding it’s drought, hail, birds, disease,” he said. “Growers and producers are renowned for being innovators. They’re not necessarily expecting charity, they’d just like to have less impediments to trialling different options moving forward.”

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