Sydney, 5 March 2021: James Kellaway, CEO of Freshmark, the NSW fresh produce peak industry body, releases the current statement about easing consumers’ minds regarding unsubstantiated claims that fruit and vegetable prices are on the rise due to upward pressures from the pandemic and natural disasters that have impacted the fresh produce industry.
“Bushfires, drought, floods and COVID have put all Australians to the test but no more so than for our country’s fresh produce industry, who, despite consequential pressures, have managed to preserve the pricing of fruit and vegetables throughout 2020 and will endeavour to do so throughout 2021.
“The current reports about price hikes of fruit and vegetable due to labour shortages of on-farm labour, including pickers and packers, do not reflect an accurate picture of what is happening in our industry.
“Since the beginning of 2020, Australian growers have shown enormous resilience as they rapidly adapted to the devastating natural disasters that have scared our country’s landscape and decimated regional communities. COVID is no exception.
“Growers strength is in their ability to quickly respond to economic anomalies, especially those brought on by COVID. At the pandemic’s peak, where food hoarding emptied retailers’ shelves, our industry sustained its supply with only a marginal impact on price.
“Backpackers, students and tourists, the backbone of the harvest supply, have reduced significantly. However, local labour has filled in this gap due to a rise in regional unemployment that has been declining over the past six years, primarily due to persistent drought.
“Horticultural producers, large or small, are accustom to fulfilling labour requirements despite seasonal restrictions, even those caused by COVID.
“The federal government has liberalised employment opportunities for young backpacker travellers, and it funds a network of contracted employment agencies known as the Harvest Trail to have available itinerant labour, directed to where it is needed.
“The pandemic also impacted produce designated for export. Air-cargo almost ceased combined with sea freight restriction. Again supply was immediately re-directed to the domestic market, easing any potential price hikes.
“Closures of restaurants, pubs and clubs have also reduced demand among foodservice allowing more fresh produce to be re-directed to retail, ensuring sufficient supply for home use.
“Australia’s entire fresh produce industry is passionate about delivering the highest quality fruit and vegetables to your table at the best price possible. That is our industry’s commitment to all Australians.