Australian shoppers could soon see their supermarket bills rise by nearly a third as the severe worker shortage continues to cripple farmers and the agriculture sector.
The price of summer vegetables, stone fruits, apples, pears and grapes will jump by as much as 29 per cent this year, according to figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.
Consumers can expect to see a change to their grocery bills in a few months’ time, it added.
“The peak harvest period for fruit is in February, March and April, meaning lower than average supply and higher than average fruit prices may not occur until well into autumn.”
Pink lady apples at Woolworths are currently going for $1.37 each. A 29 per cent price rise would bring this to $1.77.
William Bartlett pears bought at Woolies, currently $2.50 per 1kg punnet, would become $3.23 per punnet.
Coles’ yellow peaches, at $2.90 a kg, would cost $3.70 with a 29 per cent price rise. Loose white seedless grapes, at $5 a kilo, would rise to $6.45.
Fresh produce prices have risen as migrants and working holiday backpackers have been locked out of Australia for nearly 12 months due to the international travel ban, leading to a shortage in farm labourers and fruit pickers. Government figures have shown a 64 per cent slide in working holiday makers.
Farmers have been forced to throw out baskets of rotting produce as it has been left unpicked.
National Farmers’ Federation horticulture council executive officer Tyson Cattle said the “situation is only getting worse” for horticulture growers.
“Our growers are in desperate need for harvest labour and have been for the better part of a year.”
Melbourne wholesaler Michael Piccolo said COVID-19, the Black Summer bushfires and the picker shortage has led to a degree of volatility in fruit and vegetable prices he’d never seen before.
"Ginger is between $460 and $500 a box, whereas last year at this time it'd only be $150 to $160 a box," he told the ABC.
"Not a lot is coming down from Queensland. There is high demand and problems with pickers."
Apples, which are typically stably priced, have spiked by “30 to 40 per cent” due to the bushfires, he said.
But it isn’t just fresh produce consumers will be paying more for: Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci also noted “immense volatility” was also impacting meat prices.
“And really, we’ve seen with the rains we’ve had that a lot of cattle has been kept on the land.
“And so there will be continued meat price pressure coming through in the short term given that there’s a six-year cycle in growing conditions on these things for red meat.”