THE COVID-19 pandemic may have prompted an increased focus on, and consumption of, fresh produce but vegetable growers haven't exactly ridden a wave a profit.
In fact, rising input costs over the same period have put extra financial strains on the sector.
A February 21 Ausveg Advocacy Update highlighted that vegetable and potato prices have remained stable over the past two years despite record rises in farm input costs.
The latest data from horticulture trend analysis program, Harvest to Home, showed retail prices for produce have remained at pre-pandemic levels while growers face increases of more than 40 per cent in fertiliser, chemical and fuel costs, and increases by more than 20pc in wages and even airfares.
It has prompted the vegetable lobby group to call for an increase in potato and vegetable prices.
"Ausveg is calling on retailers and buyers to ensure that farmgate prices that growers receive for their produce better reflect the current economic climate to ensure the financial viability of vegetable and potato producers," the organisation said.
Its collated data showed staple vegetables only experienced moderate price increases over the past two years:
- Potatoes: 4.34pc
- Onions: 10pc
- Carrots: 8.8pc
- Lettuce: 2.67pc
- Celery: 0.3pc
- Broccoli: 24pc
It compared this with price rises of farm inputs such as urea (up 171.7pc), diesel (up 22.2pc) and fertilisers (up 174pc).
It also highlighted the disparity between the change in vegetable prices over the past two years when compared with other agricultural commodities that are also facing cost increases.
"Vegetable prices have seen the lowest percentage increase in price across all the agricultural commodities, at an average of just 7.5pc across the subset of vegetable crops highlighted above," it said.
"This is well below the average percentage of agriculture commodities of about 59.2pc, and also well below the average percentage increase of the input costs at a massive 110.3pc.
"These are alarming numbers and go to the heart of the supply chain issues within the fresh produce industry."
Fresh produce quality assurance organisation Freshcare came out in support of Ausveg's call for improved returns to growers.
Freshcare chief executive officer Jane Siebum said growers have kept Australian's fed throughout the pandemic with some of the highest-quality produce in the world.
"Growers deserve a fair price," Ms Siebum said.
"These are alarming numbers that go to the heart of the issues within the fresh produce industry, that need to be addressed for its long-term viability.
"As an industry, we should all be focused on the sustainability and longevity of the horticulture sector."
As well as increased input prices, as of April growers will have to pay seasonal workers on a piece rate a minimum wage floor rate.
The ruling by the Fair Work Commission in early February means workers under the Horticulture Award must be paid $25.41 an hour - the minimum wage, plus 25 per cent for casual work loading.
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