Farmgate sales increase in wake of cafe closures

Fruit and vegetable producers offer direct sales to combat COVID-19 pressure

Coronavirus
Skybury general manager Candy MacLaughlin with some freshly picked papaya.

Skybury general manager Candy MacLaughlin with some freshly picked papaya.

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Farmgate sales are increasing and fruit and vegetable producers are reinventing their supply routes after COVID-19 forced the closure of the hospitality industry nationwide.

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FARMGATE sales are increasing and fruit and vegetable producers are reinventing their supply routes after COVID-19 forced the closure of the hospitality industry nationwide.

Avocados, melons, lime and papaya are among the commodities hardest hit in North Queensland as cafes and restaurants remain shuttered.

Far North Queensland growers president Joe Moro urged to federal government to offer a lifeline to the horticulture sector.

"The market for some produce including the bottom end of the for avocadoes, limes, melons and papayas has been lost, as a consequence of the forced closure of some sections of the hospitality trade," Mr Moro said.

"We are also receiving reports of price reductions in some fresh food markets as household budgets are impacted and consumers electing not to buy foods, they consider luxuries, leading farmers to leave to produce in the field."

Mr Moro said while industry was confident there would be a steady and stable supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to feed Queensland, it was imperative that plans are in place to help support growers financially.

Australian Melons Association chairman and Black River Produce farmer Jon Caleo said melon growers had taken a hit across both the hospitality and supermarket sector.

"Melons have been severely impacted through the retail chain, we sell about 60 per cent to Coles, Woolies and Costco," Mr Caleo said.

"The food service industry is completely kaput, with restaurants, hotels all of that gone, that's about 20 per cent of the total business.

"At the present time melons are also suffering from the fact New Zealand is closed to use for export.

"Melons are probably not seen as a necessity, though I do think melons are clawing back a little now people have realised they can't live on toilet paper and hogwart sauce."

Mr Caleo said Woolworths had stopped cutting and wrapping watermelon in past weeks due staff shortages, which also impacted sales.

"About 90 per cent of what is sold is cut and wrapped, if you're putting out large whole watermelon charging $2/kg and you've got a 10kg melon, that's a large purchase."

Mr Caleo, who grows about 300 tonne of watermelon a year, said one saving grace for the north's growers was that it was coming to the end of the season.

His family will begin harvesting cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli next week, which are perceived more as household staples.

At Skybury, in Mareeba, their papaya sales have been impacted but despite their cafe being forced to close, coffee sales remain strong.

Skybury business development manager Paul Fagg said they supplied the bulk of their papaya to supermarkets, and the market had been like a yoyo in recent weeks.

"Papaya is seen as more of a discretionary spend than other fruit, and the market broadly has been up and down like a yoyo as retailers come to terms with the brave new world which has turned shopping patterns on its head.

"Broadly over the last week we are starting to see the market settle, we have started to see some reasonable growth back into particular retailers and independents and we are doing our best to maintain production.

"It is a case of keeping those lines of communications with retail and wholesale partners open and giving them a heads up on our forecast production.

"We are probably less exposed that some of the other growers who principally sell through the market floor, where cafes and restaurants source from."

Mr Fagg said they had about 40 backpackers and 15 PNG seasonal workers, who the company had supported.

Mr Fagg said while their cafe had closed in line with COVID-19 measures, their roasted coffee beans sales had soared.

"One positive impact is our roast coffee has skyrocketed, both Skybury and NQ Gold, we've had a big uplift in coffee sales with people unable to go to a cafe, they're grabbing their coffee fix at home."

Mr Fagg said growers could adapt and seek opportunity from the health crisis.

"There seems to be a lot more emphasis in people sourcing produce locally, from the farm gate.

"Far more people are doing that, there's a real push in consumer land to try to source locally and support local producers.

"A lot are now offering produce in a box for home delivery and growers are looking at where the opportunities are.

"There is a bigger awareness and people are asking where their fruit is coming from, where the product is being sourced from.

"There is a growing movement that we actually need to support local growers a bit more and keep that money closer to home."

The story Farmgate sales increase in wake of cafe closures first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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