Supermarkets are having to rethink what fruit and vegetables they put on the shelves as growers in eastern states are hit by a range of natural disasters.
Vegetables prices have soared in recent weeks due to the flooding in north Queensland, while drought in New South Wales is impacting on this year’s fruit harvest.
For orchardists in the central west of NSW, the lack of rain and extreme summer temperatures have taken their toll.
“Our dam is running low, we just haven’t got enough water for our trees,” Paula Charnock, owner of Thornbrook Orchard in Nashdale, said.
“We are having to focus our attention this year on our apples, that’s where the water it going, and our other crops are just having to battle it out with no water.”
Ms Charnock said the difference in quality was most noticeable when it came to the produce that had received less water.
“Our fig trees haven’t been getting any water, so the figs are shrivelling up before harvest and the leaves on the trees are curling,” she said.
“Our customers realise why the fruit may be small or have marks on them, so we don’t face the same challenge as a grower trying to sell to the supermarkets.”
For fruit and vegetable suppliers, the rising cost and quality of produce is proving to be a big challenge.
Country Fruit Distributors in Orange buys produce from Queensland and NSW and sends out to businesses and schools across central west NSW.
“Prices are increasing and the quality is getting hard to find, owner Clint Evans said.
“Snow peas, beans, baby spinach and broccoli are all affected, while there’s a shortage of tomatoes.”
Mr Evans said customers were aware of the challenges facing growers and are accepting that the quality of what they are buying may not be what they are used to.
“People, especially in the cities, need to be aware of just how dry it is for growers and how tough it is at the moment,” he said.
The supermarket giants are having to change the specifications required for fruit and vegetables to be sold on the shelves.
“When major weather events occur that affect appearance, we vary specifications so as not to disadvantage farmers at these times,” Paul Turner, Woolworths’ Head of Produce, said.
Customers are more open to buying imperfect vegetables these days more than ever before.
“Demand for odd-looking vegetables is strong, we have sold around 114 million kilograms in the past five years, and we’re seeing a 25 per cent rise each year in sales each year,” Mr Turner said.
The imperfect vegetables would otherwise have been turned into waste material or thrown out.
“Selling it cheaper means it brings different types of customers in to buy fruit and vegetables at lower prices, including retirees and young families,” Mr Turner said.