Shoppers urged to eat blemished fruit and veg to help farmers

Shoppers urged to eat blemished fruit and veg to help farmers

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Agriculture minister Mark Furner with Stanthorpe grower Tim Carnell.

Agriculture minister Mark Furner with Stanthorpe grower Tim Carnell.

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As Queensland farmers continue to struggle with the effects of droughts and bushfires, shoppers are being urged to buy misshapen or blemished produce to help them out.

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As Queensland farmers continue to struggle with the effects of droughts and bushfires, shoppers are being urged to buy misshapen or blemished produce to help them out.

Agriculture minister Mark Furner said the best way to help farmers was to keep buying Australian-grown food, even if it's out of shape, has cosmetic blemishes or is smaller than usual.

"We know that many retailers, such as Coles, have been helping drought and bushfire affected producers by paying higher wholesale prices and accepting produce that may not be to the visual standards customers have become accustomed to expect," he said.

"Mangoes may have a few marks, apples may be a little smaller, but it's important for consumers to know that even if fresh produce doesn't look absolutely perfect, it still tastes just as good - and they'll be helping our farmers at a time when they need it most."

Stanthorpe horticulturist Tim Carnell has been severely impacted by prolonged drought and recent hail storms impacting his crops of tomatoes and capsicums.

"We've been carting water now for about 15 months on and off to different farms," he said.

"At our peak this season we had six tankers running 24 hours a day, seven days a week shifting about 1.2 megalitres a day.

"That comes at an incredible cost to our business.

"We've fortunately been under some storms and rain this last week which has relieved some of those trucks."

Mr Carnell said one of the farms was pelted by golf-ball sized hail in December, with 50 acres of capsicums affected.

"We spread ourselves out across 10 or 12 different growing sites so we'll see a delay in some of our production in February and March with that," he said.

"With initiatives like this with Coles we're able to send some of those more blemished fruit and make a return from that."

Mr Carnell said despite the conditions they had still managed to supply Australian households with quality fresh produce.

"The worst thing for us would be for shoppers to turn their nose up at tomatoes that might not be as firm or big, or capsicums that are slightly miss-shaped," he said.

"It's critical for the long-term survival of Aussie farmers that customers continue to buy and enjoy the fresh food we grow, even if it's not perfect to look at."

Growcom CEO David Thomson said waste was a big problem for the industry in Queensland with about 25 per cent of produce never making it to market.

"We know this produce still tastes great and is just as good for you, even when it is not quite picture-perfect," he said.

"Too much of our produce has been wasted because it hasn't met specifications."

Mr Thomson said he hoped these kinds of initiatives would allow more off-spec produce to make it to market.

"One of the big costs of farming is picking so if you can somehow mechanise the picking... you can reduce the costs," he said.

"Hopefully a trend over time will be more mechanised picking, which might have some collateral damage on aesthetics."

Coles Group CEO Steven Cain said the company had been working closely with farmers to adjust product specifications where necessary, to give them certainty that they could continue to sell their produce.

"Our customers are very keen to support Australian farmers, so we're hoping they join us in looking beyond a few surface imperfections - the beauty of Australian produce is certainly more than skin deep," he said.

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