Avocado grower Ros Smerdon, CEO of Natures Fruit Company.
Avocado grower Ros Smerdon, CEO of Natures Fruit Company. Warren Lynam

Bad year sours fresh produce

NATURES Fruit Company CEO Ros Smerdon has declared 2011 a "write-off" for most local fresh fruit producers.

Floods killed trees and crops, fruit quality was down, the higher dollar decimated export markets and consumer demand is at an all-time low as the world continued to tighten its belt.

"The markets have been terrible, across the board, all fruit and veg is suffering," she said.

"People just aren't buying. Normally, holiday periods like Chinese New Year or Christmas are when people don't care how much it costs because they want to have something special, but we are not seeing that as much.

"And the preparedness to pay any price is also not there, so those crops which are challenging to grow just aren't paying their way.

"The growers are still there, but they are wondering how much more they can take.

"There are still new plantings and there won't be a shortage, but areas that are being pressured by residential housing developments might see a situation where it's more attractive to grow houses than farms."

Avocados

The flooding rains earlier this year water-logged trees, causing the root rot disease phytophthora and an average 15% tree loss. Once the disease is in the soil, all trees must be removed and the ground left for two years before re-planting.

Ms Smerdon said the price this year was again low.

Custard apples

Fruit set for next season, which starts in March, is looking good. Fingers are crossed for good weather and not too much rain.

"We would normally send 30% of our custard apples to export, but this year we were lucky to send 5%," Ms Smerdon said.

"So then we put more on the domestic market and domestic price gets lower, so it's a vicious circle."

Macadamias

Nutworks general manager Kylie Watson said this year started with promise, with expectations of a huge crop, but then the heavens opened and growers lost about a quarter of their kernels.

"But we fared extremely well compared to northern NSW. Most of our supply comes from Gympie and Beerwah, and we were affected but northern NSW was affected twice as bad."

She said the quality was not impacted, but a lower than expected supply drove the price up.

"There is no question demand exceeds supply across the board. We are really at a critical place.

"If the price goes any higher, people will switch to a substitute, so we have to hope it doesn't go too much higher."

Ms Watson said her tourist business, at Yandina, was doing well and was now more reliant on locals as the number of international travellers declined.

Wish for 2012

Ms Smerdon has this message for Santa, just in case he has any presents left over: "No hail, no flooding rain and for the dollar to go down so exports have got a better chance."


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