AUSTRALIA: An interesting year for those in Western Australia’s fresh produce sector

by Tyne McConnon, ABC Rural


Those involved in Western Australia’s fresh produce sector are describing 2015 as an interesting year.

It has been a year that has seen crops devastated in the north by Cyclone Olwyn but also a year that has witnessed avocado production skyrocket.



General manager of WA Farm Direct John Mercer said it had been a year of highs and lows.

“Probably one of the most difficult bits was the cyclone that went through Carnarvon and knocked those guys up there around a bit,” Mr Mercer said.

“They are getting close to getting back on line with bananas but it’s very difficult for them.

“The mango production will be down this year, the first vegetables got knocked out, so they all planted a bit more so then it affected the price and quality.”

Despite such conditions Mr Mercer said there was not much one could do on the market floor.

“Life goes on. It’s supply and demand 101,” he said.

“Some of the prices achieved weren’t very spectacular but it gets back to supply and demand.”


The highs of 2015 — avocadoes and berries

Mr Mercer said avocadoes had a particularly good season in 2015.

“I think the avocado production in Western Australia and the ongoing demand for them by consumers [was a highlight],” he said.

“Consumers, at the end of the day, run our industry and with avocadoes they have been very, very strong.”

Figures released by wholesale trading facility Market City also showed a huge surge in avocadoes being sold.

Avocado production increased from 6,616 tonnes in 2013–14 to 21,836 tonnes in 2014–15.

Mr Mercer said the prices being paid for avocadoes remained high throughout the year, surprisingly, despite the increase in production.

“That’s the thing that has really pleasantly confused everyone,” he said.

“With doubling, tripling the supply it hasn’t affected the price side of it.

“The demand is still outstripping the supply.”

Mr Mercer said the demand was expected to continue to grow.

“The industry predicts another three or four years of growth even though there’s massive plantings down south, with more trees going in,” he said.

“No-one sees the end of it.”

Mr Mercer said it was not only first grade avocadoes that the market was calling for, but there had been growth in the processing side.

“A lot of seconds and thirds on the market are now being processed and sold through all the burger bars and the health food stores,” he said.

“In a sandwich place when you get avocado it very rarely it comes out of a nice avocado; it’s avocado pulp that’s been treated correctly.

“That’s underpinned the industry as well.”

Mr Mercer said berries were also something consumers could barely get enough of.

“Berry production in Western Australia, blueberries and raspberries, has increased dramatically and we’ve seen consumers take to that fantastically,” he said.

“We have got some record prices for blueberries; record prices that are embarrassingly high.”

Mr Mercer said he thought the increased market demand for blueberries had been created by a societal push for healthy living.

“I think when you look in all the magazines, the papers, the TV cooking shows, everyone is highlighting the benefits of various fruits and vegies and the berries come up there very high,” he said.

“On today’s floor in the market we had blueberries from New Zealand, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.”

Dave Parnham from Mercer Moody said he had seen growth in various areas.

“Pineapples have certainly grown strongly from last year to this year,” Mr Parnham said.

“The supply of pawpaws has increased and even with that sales have been higher than last year.

“Average return to the grower is probably down in relation to the upswing in volume.

“Passionfruit is another big one.”


Below average returns

Despite the higher volume of produce, Mr Parham said retailers have struggled this year.

“A lot of ups and downs in product lines,” he said.

“The categories we’ve grown generally but despite that it’s been a tougher year for a lot of the shoppers out there.

“Generally the retailers are doing it a bit tougher than last year and the year before.

“The end of the mining boom, or I guess less spending in mining, has affected some big wholesalers who relied on them for sales and they in turn bought big volumes of produce from us.”


A good year for consumers

Shawn Offer from fresh produce store Fresh Provisions said it was a good year for consumers.

“The market was fairly well supplied this year, produce prices were fairly low and it enabled us to sell quite a bit more volume than we normally do,” Mr Offer said.

“Quality was fantastic. When you have readily available supply, the ability to pick out good produce has been quite easy.”

“The pineapples have been very good in the last few months for us, we had a great strawberry season when local strawberries came through, and asparagus and avocadoes were fairly well supplied this year with reasonable prices.”


Source: ABC Rural

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