A SPOKESMAN for Australia's vegetable growers says industry members are shocked at record levels of veg imports this year.
Data released this week by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has shown that imports of vegetables have increased by $122m over the past 12 months.
The figures indicate that the value of imported vegetables for 2011-12 is $908m, compared with $786m the previous year, an increase of around 16 per cent.
“With vegetable imports up a staggering $122m, Australian growers are being swamped by produce grown for a pittance abroad – often under conditions that would not be permitted in Australia – and subsidised by foreign governments in order to gain an unfair advantage over Australia’s growers,” said AUSVEG spokesperson Hugh Gurney.
“The high Australian dollar has also played a part in this increase, as many Australian processors and retailers are finding it cheaper to import overseas product than to stock locally grown produce,” said Mr Gurney.
According to a separate ABARES survey also released this month, 59 per cent of vegetable growers believe that imports driving down prices are a hindrance to the future business viability of their farm.
“I’ve spoken to growers who are planning get out of the industry within the next 12 months as rising input costs and competition from abroad force them to sell their produce at slim margins, often below cost price in some cases.
“It is heart-wrenching that many Australian vegetable growers struggle to see a future for their industry due to the tidal wave of cheap imports flooding the nation,” Mr Gurney said.
It has been a challenging year for the Australian vegetable industry, with the closure of several notable growing and processing operations, the most recent being iconic Australian brand Rosella entering into voluntary administration.
“If a sizeable operation like Rosella that has been around for over 150 years has struggled to get by in Australia, it is clear that smaller, more vulnerable growers and processors will find it exceptionally difficult to compete with mounting imports.
“Greater country of origin labelling requirements, greater anti-dumping powers and a round table to address the challenges facing the Australian vegetable industry in this turbulent climate are required if we are to see the future of the industry secured.
“AUSVEG urges all Australians to ensure that the food they are putting on their plates over the holiday season is locally produced and grown to the exacting standards of quality and safety demanded in Australia,” Mr Gurney said.