The announcement that Premium Fresh – one of Tasmania’s largest vegetable growing operations – has entered into voluntary administration has sent shockwaves through the Australian horticultural sector.
Based near Devonport in Northern Tasmania, Premium Fresh are a major grower and packer of carrots, onions, swedes, turnips and shallots and produce 45,000 tonnes of produce each year. In addition Premium Fresh also employ 140 people as well as partnering with over 80 other landholders to grow produce for them.
“What we’re seeing is another major food producer in this country unable to compete in this climate and it again highlights the concerns that there are serious underlying issues in Horticulture that Government and Industry must work together to address,” said AUSVEG Public Affairs Manager William Churchill.
Over the past 12 months three other major vegetable growing operations in Queensland have faced similar financial troubles with many citing similar issues including less than optimal weather conditions affecting yields, increasing power and water prices, and the supermarket duopoly.
In addition to ever-increasing costs of production, vegetable growers are continually citing the ongoing competition between Coles and Woolworths as having an adverse impact on the returns to their businesses.
“I wonder if this is the scenario that Coles Managing Director Ian McLeod had in mind when he told Frank Costa, the Chair of one of the largest supply chains in the country, that ‘this country has got no idea what real competition is’,” said Mr Churchill.
“Many of these companies have been in business for decades and to see the pioneering growers who make the major efforts to innovate and grow be snuffed out, citing the competition by the big two, is heartbreaking,” said Mr Churchill.
The Federal and Tasmanian government have committed to providing a joint assistance package of $750,000 during the time of administration and Premium Fresh will continue to trade and it is hoped with little impact upon supply to the consumer.
AUSVEG requested in April this year that the Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig convene a roundtable discussion to address the mounting challenges facing Australian horticulture, but these requests went unanswered. AUSVEG is again calling on the Minister to convene the roundtable to address these issues.
“The rhetoric about how Australia exports more than it consumes works well when talking about beef and wheat farmers but for industries with perishable product such as vegetables, dairy and fruit we need alternatives to relieve growers and escape the retail warfare currently taking place. Access to foreign markets, removing tariffs on Australian goods, addressing penalty rates on farms, these issues need to be put on the table and discussed lest we continue to see more of these major farms go belly up,” said Mr Churchill.
“No other country in the world treats its food producers like this. Something must be done to address the National situation that major farmers are falling over, starting with a roundtable meeting between Industry and the Minister.”