An oversupply of blueberries has allowed supermarkets such as Woolworths and Coles to force prices for the fruit to a low, leaving farmers struggling to make a profit.
South Australian blueberry farmer Grant Gartrell, who has been growing blueberries for the last 40 years at Mount Compass, south of Adelaide, said prices on supermarket shelves were simply unfair.
“They are not realistic prices; they take no consideration of the future of our industry and I don’t think they are necessary prices,” Mr Gartrell said.
“We also do sell fruit through the central market and customers are looking for a good quality product and are willing to pay a fair price for a good product.”
Retail prices for fresh blueberries currently sit at $2 to $3 per 125 gram punnet at major supermarkets.
The importance of shopping at Your Local Greengrocer is that all produce sold is supplied through the central market system. In NSW, growers from across the country send their produce to independent wholesalers in Sydney Market. These wholesalers then sell onto the independent local greengrocer who sells to you and your local community.
It is through this market system that a fairer price is secured for farmers. This is because prices are determine by market forces and not by direct contracts between growers and supermarket – where the greater purchasing power and distribution of the buyer gives them an unfair advantage over their suppliers and competition.
Why an oversupply?
Marketing and business development manager for the SA Produce Market Nadia Boscaini said the current blueberry glut was due to a lot of fruit from New South Wales growers coming onto the market.
She said more growers had gone into the blueberry industry and many of the new plantings’ fruit was coming onto the market now.
“This has been one of the bigger cases of an oversupply at this time of year [and] we expect it to still last for the next few weeks,” Ms Boscaini said.
Low prices put blueberry growers at risk
Mr Gartrell said the prices supermarkets charged bore no relationship to the cost of growing the fruit and in fact, risked blueberry growers’ future.
“Blueberry growers go broke,” he said.
“It’s a bit like the dairy farmers, expected to take a dollar a litre for milk or not take it, who weren’t even getting that.”
Penny Tideman, who grows blueberries at their operation Ticoba blueberries and avocados in Comboyne, NSW, said she had never seen such low prices for a punnet of blueberries.
“We’ve seen huge plantings in the last two to three years and all those blueberries are now starting to produce,” she said.
“I think that’s why we are getting the huge quantities, not only at this time of the year but also in winter.
“Normally in winter there were very few blueberries and the price was always high but now it is really easy to buy a cheap punnet of blueberries.”
Jennifer Kompara-Tosio, owner and manager of Brackenridge Berries in Waitui, NSW, said there was an upsurge of blueberry plantings in Coffs Harbour in recent years, bringing more fruit onto the market.
Blueberries are a labour-intensive fruit as each berry needs to be hand-picked off the bush.
Ms Kompara-Tosio said hand picking the fruit was a prime cost for growers so the low retail prices for the fruit becomes prohibitive for Australian blueberry growers to expand their businesses.
She said it cost her farm $5 per kilogram to pick the blueberries with pickers taking approximately 10 minutes to pick one kilo, if the fruit is right at the top of the bush and there is plenty of it.
That means that for each 125 gram punnet retailing at $2, half has already gone to picking alone — and then there is packing and transporting to markets.
“They are not fast picking, it’s not like picking bunches of grapes,” Ms Kompara-Tosio said.
“Then they have to be graded, looked at, and cleaned.
Ms Tideman said the low profit margins of fresh blueberries have meant some farmers, like her, have decided to leave the blueberry industry.
“Our blueberry bushes are ready to be replaced, they kind of reached their used-by date and we certainly are not going to invest any money in replanting our blueberries,” she said.
Original article by ABC Rural