Australia’s largest tomato grower in voluntary administration

Australia’s largest tomato grower, SP Exports, has gone into voluntary administration. The Childers-based operation, near Bundaberg in southern Queensland, and in Victoria, is now in the hands of administrators.

Contributing to the company’s failure has been two chemical oversprays from nearby properties, last year’s floods, and low prices since 2001.  The company put more than 1160 hectares of farm land and four homes at Childers on the market last December as the company’s owners battled to keep the business running.

According to industry representatives, higher prices for electricity, labour and fertilisers have also contributed to SP’s failure and is make growing less and less viable with many growers considering leaving the industry.

Meanwhile, other stakeholders spoke of the impact of the latest round in the Coles-Woolworths price war as being a contributory factor in SP’s demise and said there were likely to be other, similar casualties.

Growcom, the peak Queensland horticulture, is hopeful the company could survive.

‘‘We’re hoping that SP can trade its way out, sooner rather than later,’’ said chief executive Alex Livingstone.

‘‘Just a couple of weeks ago there was a major glut of produce on the market.

‘‘Growing conditions along the east coast have been pretty good and that’s led to an abundance of product, and as the supply increases the price goes down.’’

Mr Livingstone said the fruit and vegetable industry has been erratic this year.

‘‘It’s up and down, it depends on the commodity, and it depends on the week and it depends on supply not only from your own area but other areas as well.

‘‘I couldn’t say it’s abnormal but in some areas people are not getting a decent return for their product,’’ he said.

With debts around $31 million, preliminary investigations indicate unsecured SP creditors are owed around $12.5 million and secured creditors are owed $18 million. Employees are owed in excess of $500,000.