Moves to examine fresh food pricing have been welcomed by farmers and grocers, who have concerns about the power of the major supermarkets.
In recent years, “price wars” between Coles and Woolworths have seen the cost of loaves of bread and litres of milk slashed, with farmers getting squeezed in the market. At the same time, cheap imported produce meant it was cheaper for Riverina citrus growers to pull their trees out than harvest their crops.
Now a state upper house inquiry, led by veteran MP Fred Nile, will put the microscope on fresh food pricing.
Alan Brown, chairman of NSW Farmers Wagga and district branch, said the markup between the farm gate and supermarket shelf was enormous and believed anything that brought the light of truth into the food supply chain should be welcomed.
“Everyone’s got a right to make a profit, but the price the farmer gets paid compared to the supermarket is horrendous,” Mr Brown said. “Milk is a classic example, at $1 per litre the farmers were getting paid less than it cost to produce it and people have been getting out of dairy in droves.”
It’s insane that bottled water costs more than milk, but if this continues we’ll be importing milk from New Zealand.Alan Brown, NSW Farmers Wagga and district branch
Second-generation green grocer Robert Papasidero, who had operated Wagga Fruit Supply for 26 years, said his relationships with farmers came into play when buying their produce.
“Our in season produce comes from the region, you’ve got to look them in the eyes when you pay them,” Mr Papasidero said.
“You can’t short-sheet them over the phone and hope to get something, it bites you in the bum if you try to cheat farmers. We’re not the cheapest, but I don’t want to be the cheapest if I’m robbing some farmer and he can’t send his kid on a school excursion or take his wife to the doctor. We pay a fair price and when things are short and scarce they take care of us, it goes in a circle.”
Consumers were accustomed to buying produce year-round, Mr Papasidero said, which meant imports and exports were necessary to keep items on shelves. But many people didn’t understand how the retail produce supply chain worked.
“They’re picking fruit green and hitting it with gas to colour it and then it keeps for a week in a bowl,” he said. “If no insects go near it, it can’t be ready to be eaten. Fresh produce should never keep, you used to cook it up to use it, but now we’re used to throwing it away.”
Reverend Nile said the inquiry would examine trends in the pricing of fresh food in NSW compared to both domestic and international markets.
“We will also consider the relationship between wholesale prices paid to farmers and the retail price paid by consumers, as well as payment arrangements between growers, wholesalers and fresh food retailers,” Reverend Nile said. “The prevalence of food insecurity across the state, the identification of food deserts and the impact on fresh food prices of industry, competition and the environment will also be examined.”
Wagga-based Nationals MP Wes Fang said he was very keen to see the result of the inquiry.
“We always support farmers getting the maximum return at the farm gate, a strong return means money is spent in town and that helps everyone,” he said. “I think it’d be great if people took the time to read the information and make a submission. The Nationals will take a detailed look at the inquiry’s findings.”
Anyone interested in having a say on the inquiry can make a submission until May 25, with public hearings to take place shortly thereafter.
More information can be found on the inquiry’s website.