Wild weather, COVID, inflation hitting crop growers hard, driving up prices

Growers are finding it hard to produce goods at a low cost.
Growers are finding it hard to produce goods at a low cost. Photo credit: Getty Images

The cost of fruit and vegetables have gone up 10 percent in the past year, according to the latest figures from Stats New Zealand.

Consumer confidence is dropping, prices are rising and some customers wonder if farmers are now reaping big pay cheques.

Allan Fong's family has been in the horticulture business for nearly 60 years. He said there has never been a more difficult time to be a grower.

"I'm looking back when I was in my early 20s and I can honestly say I'd rather be back then than now."

In Pukekawa at one of The Fresh Grower's several farms in the Franklin region there is 140 acres of lettuce and cauliflower.

The sun was out but the ground is still sodden from recent weeks of rain.

Wild weather has wiped out thousands of crops and left picking baskets empty and strewn across the fields.

"Unfortunately, because of the excess rain we've had a lot of bacterial disease come on and that's why you see a lot of wastage... so there's quite a few hundreds of thousands of lettuces unfortunately, that we have to bypass."

Everything is hand picked before it is washed, packaged and transported to supermarkets or home delivery food boxes very little of their crop is exported now days.

A few years ago many of their buyers were in hospitality but Covid-19 took almost all of their clients.

"We basically lost up to or between 80-100 percent of our food service business, which means cafes, restaurants, hotels, so their tourism business was really decimated and like all other industries associated with that. I mean when cafe or restaurant fails that in turn impacts on us."

They desperately need more staff for harvesting, Allan said they have been trying to fill roles with little success.

"Fewer people applying or next to nothing in fact so because our crops are planted and harvested weekly, we've experienced quite often periods this last two years where we have had a lot of crop waste because we just can't take the crop off the fields."

They have got dozens of vehicles which they rely on for harvesting, spraying crops and transporting them to retailers. All the vehicles run on diesel, which has gone up about 50 cents a litre since January.

That is not something they can cut back on, but they are now experimenting with using less fertiliser.

Costs are increasing dramatically.

"Fertiliser's between a 60-80 percent increase this year; crop protection products, probably anything from 25 to 30 percent increase, diesel got up to a 25 percent increase. So these are all impacted on us. Our freight rates have gone up because of the diesel surcharges."

Despite many shoppers assuming growers are putting up their prices due to these overheads, that is not the case here.

But absorbing all the rising costs does not come without consequences.

"Our only option is to reduce our production."

That means there is less supply on shelves, which can be why the price of your favourite veg is costing you more at the checkout.

At 65 Allan is looking at slowing down in the future, when he does his children will take the reigns, while it is particularly tough at the moment - he has faith in them.

"The younger generation, whether the our generation or other people, other families they're resilient, the smart you know that they'll get there."