Tomato growers face skyrocketing energy costs, labour shortages

Tomatoes NZ says growers face skyrocketing energy costs for heating glasshouses
Tomatoes NZ says growers face skyrocketing energy costs for heating glasshouses Photo credit: Thomas Martinsen/ Unsplash

By Sally Murphy for RNZ

Tomatoes NZ hopes feedback from growers about the issues they're facing will show the government and consumers how expensive and hard it's become to grow the fruit.

The industry group is getting feedback from growers to create a living document of information.

It highlights the main issues growers are having such as rising energy and production costs, labour shortages and biosecurity incursions.

The cost of energy used to heat glasshouses had skyrocketed, with coal between 45 and 65 percent higher in price and gas up 50 percent.

Sourcing labour remained a challenge, the document said. Tomato growing businesses were operating with 40-60 percent of employee numbers due to the effects of COVID-19 and border restrictions.

Tomatoes NZ chair Barry O'Neil said the group was hearing constantly from the media and the public about high prices, yet growers were not seeing the high prices due to increased costs.

"When supply is low and demand is high in winter the price of tomatoes is high but people forget that in summer prices can get very, very low.

"Last year we saw tomatoes selling for 8 cents a kilo," he said.

"That fluctuation in the industry is not sustainable.

"We thought we'd bring the issues that are impacting growers so we can have a more informed discussion with our consumers, the media and with politicians."

There were solutions to some of the issues but they were not quick fixes and would require a level of investment, O'Neil said.

On the cost of energy, for example, policies and actions that supported undercover crop growers to transition to decarbonised heating would help.

"Emission Trading Scheme charges also have a great impact on our growers. We think protection should be given to domestic growers as imported fresh tomatoes from Australia are not subject to the same ETS or carbon tax production costs, which leads to unfair competition," he said.

"We estimate that 25 per cent of small to medium growers have left the industry in the last four years due to some of these issues and we are worried that we could end up in a situation where we are heavily relying on imported products because it's to expensive to grow tomatoes here.

"Unless we can get some change to policy settings that are impacting our producers that's a real risk so that's why we are putting this document out."