LOCAL fruit growers are applauding Woolworths’ decision to source all its apple, pear, peach and apricot fruit from Australia for its home-brand canned line, but are calling on the supermarket giant to commit to the juice market as well.
Batlow apple growers have joined the NSW Farmers Association in backing the positive step in securing a market for the declining fruit processing sector.
Batlow apple grower, Greg Mouat, knows too well the pressure the fresh produce industry faces as a whole.
He is one of the Batlow growers who have weathered the storm of the past decade that with natural disasters aside, has taken its toll on the fruit industry and has put the most experienced producer under the squeeze.
Pleased to see the southern growers set to benefit from Woolworths investing back in the country, Mr Mouat said relief may be in sight, especially for the pear grower,s but would like to see a full commitment from both Woolworths and Coles in regard to juice concentrate.
“The big issue we have is the large amount of overseas concentrate that comes in,” Mr Mouat said. “It is then labelled as local produce, which in itself is misleading.
“The issue we have is the sheer volume entering the country is making the domestic juice market unsustainable.”
With juice prices hovering around $120 a tonne, the cost of getting the fruit to the lowly paid market is not worth it for growers.
The dumping of Australian grown citrus has long been reported but to date a solution not guaranteed. Mr Mouat challenged the supermarket duopoly to use Australian fruit in their juice products, which he said would address the orange glut and also the poor apple juice market.
“If you have frost or a hail disaster and can’t sell fruit on the domestic market and your fruit needs to go to juice, the price you receive is below the cost of picking, let alone production,” Mr Mouat said. “We cannot compete with the overseas juice concentrate, labour is the big killer here. It is amazing we can’t get our apples in China yet they can dump their fruit here.”
Understanding that Australia ships a sizable amount of iron ore and coal to China and thus is required to offer some sort of return market, the Batlow farmer feels that due to the fruit industry’s lack of lobbying power they are the ones who lose out.
“Importing fruit concentrate is not doing the fresh produce market any good,” Mr Mouat said. “If we had a viable juice market it would take the poorer quality fruit out of the market place and the apple industry as a whole would be more viable.
“People want to be able to buy Australian, especially in produce. Woolworths understand this and we applaud that. Let’s us now take it further and include the juice industry.”
Questions of volumes that will be commissioned, whether canning operation SPC Ardmona will now renew contracts and how far the announcement has the potential to expand is yet to be disclosed but Woolworths have stated it will invest a further $3 million to source all its own brand canned apples, pears, peaches and apricots from SPC Ardmona.
This follows an earlier commitment of $7 million to source 13 lines of canned fruit from SPC Ardmona in August.
“It is pretty poor that Woolworths, not the government is helping out in these tough circumstances,” Mr Mouat said. “Obviously they have made a business decision but it is great nevertheless. If we can start to get that same commitment for juices that would be wonderful.
“The consumer wants truth in labelling and have an absolute right to buy a tin of juice produce of their choice and to know exactly where it has come from.”
– Kirsty Roche