Huge demand for herbs during the pandemic — combined with the highest rainfall on his property in four years — has left central Queensland farmer Richard Fairley in good spirits after a “bone-dry” start to last year’s winter planting season. 

Key points:

  • The consumption of herbs, seasonings and stocks was up more than 80 per cent last March, according to the ABS 
  • Both major supermarkets have reported increases in fresh and pre-packed herb sales
  • The Biloela grower says recent rainfall is the most he’s had in four years

Australians’ consumption of herbs, seasonings, and stocks skyrocketed by 82 per cent in March 2020 compared to the same time the year before, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

Major supermarkets have also recorded steady increases in the sale of herbs.

Mr Fairley, of Biloela, said demand for his herbs was the highest he had ever experienced.

“The majority that we do, like basil, coriander, parsley — they’re the main ones — they’re increasing quite well, with lemongrass, dill, oregano, which is going along nicely,” he said.

Mr Fairley said the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced people to spend more time in the kitchen, had likely contributed.

“That’s a positive sign, just the way things have been moving through the supermarkets, and it’s feeding back into the paddocks with a more positive outlook.”

Mr Fairley said it was a welcome boost for farmers.

“It just makes farming extra enjoyable,” he said.

Rows of green herbs, blue sky and clouds, sun shining.

Richard Fairley is feeling positive after planting this season’s herbs.(

Supplied: Richard Fairley

)

‘Significant growth’ in herb sales

Coles was among major supermarkets reporting a jump in herb sales over the past 12 months. 

“Last year we saw pantry stocking, people working and eating from home, restrictions on hospitality, and more Australians in Australia due to border closures,” a spokeswoman said. 

A Woolworths spokesman said both fresh and pre-packaged herb sales had increased.

“We have seen steady growth in demand for herbs over the last year, with people spending more time at home and cooking from scratch,” he said. 

“Coriander, parsley and basil are the most popular herbs in our range.

“However we’ve seen high growth in demand for chives in the last 12 months as well.”

Basil growing in a paddock

Basil is one of the main crops Mr Fairley grows at Biloela.(

ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler

)

A welcome boost for farmers

Mr Fairley said the increased appreciation for fresh produce had bolstered confidence for farmers who struggled.

“I think people forget how much effort goes into what we actually produce and that goes anywhere from apples to herbs, to even a bale of hay,” he said.

“It’d be good if we can see an increase of sales across the board in every part of agriculture.”

Highest rainfall in four years

Mr Fairley said his property had been “extremely lucky” with rainfall in recent weeks.

Small rows of green herbs, light brown mud/soil and trees, blue sky behind.

Mr Fairley says planting conditions this winter have been improved by good rain.(

Supplied: Richard Fairley

)

“[It’s] the most we’ve had in the last four years so the sub-soil moisture is making irrigating a lot easier at the moment … because there’s already enough sub-soil moisture there,” he said.

“It’s making my life a lot easier compared to this time last year where it was bone dry and it was just a lot more challenging and lot more work.

“I know there’s plenty of areas that still need the rain, but, for us, we’re extremely lucky this year.

Mr Fairley hoped the season would end as well as it started.

“But it’s farming, there’s always challenges out there and it’s just the way you approach them, or the way they approach you, and how you handle them.”

‘Exciting times ahead’: Home cooks trigger a surge in demand for fresh herbs
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