Households should expect to pay more for fresh produce, including usually cheap and plentiful cucumbers, for at least the next 18 months, says a major grower, as the horticultural industry continues to struggle with lack of workers.
- Fresh vegetable prices are up and will stay high for months, says a major producer
- The major WA and SA grower says cucumber plantings have been cut by almost half
- Producers say they can’t find enough workers to plant, tend to and pick crops
Cucumber, capsicum and tomato producer 4 Ways Fresh has cut the number of cucumber vines at its West Australian operation by almost half because the company is unable to find enough people to care for the plants, let alone pick the produce.
General Manager at 4 Ways Fresh Kingsley Songer said, with international borders closed, his workforce had halved.
“(Usually at) this time of the year when the plants are in full bearing and we are in full ‘go’ mode, we would have 30 people running around the block,” Mr Songer said.
“If we had the whole 200 (greenhouse) tunnels planted we’d have those sort of numbers.
Wholesale prices for cucumbers are 25 to 30 per cent higher than normal for this time of year, with major supermarkets selling continental cucumbers for as much as $3.50 each.
“It’s the old supply-demand curve,” Mr Songer said.
“Certainly, the wholesale price is up on where it would be (normally ) and therefore that directly relates to where the retail prices is at.
“A lot of people haven’t planted as much this year because they’re a bit apprehensive about the availability of labour, so we will see prices remain fairly buoyant, I think, certainly for the balance of this year.”
Mr Songer said he did not expect the situation to improve until the international borders reopened.
“It has been alleviated to some extent where the government has allowed for the Pacific Island workers to come in, so that’s been some help in some areas, but there’s not anywhere near enough to cover the shortfall,” he said.
The 4 Ways Four company has farms and packing facilities in Geraldton, Western Australia and Virginia, South Australia, supplying produce across the country.
This year, it is expecting to produce about 800 tonnes of continental cucumbers from its Geraldton operation, about 40 per cent less than normal.
Despite the challenges, Mr Songer said the privately owned business would stick with plans to build 100 greenhouse horticulture tunnels in Geraldton.
“We’ve got an issue right at the moment but we always planned to build those this year so we’re moving ahead with that and they’ll be completed in time for next season,” he said.
“We certainly won’t be planting in them this year but will be in a position that they’ll be available for us next year.”