Tomato grower Troy Bromley in the Bromley family’s Nana Glen shade houses with Tradiro variety truss tomatoes ready for Coffs Coast Growers Market.
Tomato grower Troy Bromley in the Bromley family’s Nana Glen shade houses with Tradiro variety truss tomatoes ready for Coffs Coast Growers Market. Rob Wright

Poor quality produce after deluge

VEGETABLE and fruit growers and processors on the Coffs Coast are not reaping any bonanzas from the trials of flood-affected Queensland farmers.

Jason Winslow, who grows field tomatoes, melons and pumpkins on a large scale at Bowraville, said while wholesale tomato prices had jumped yesterday to $40 a 10kg carton for medium/large tomatoes, the same price as this time last year, they were still getting $12 a carton for smaller tomatoes.

Mr Winslow said the higher prices came at the end of a cool, wet year during which growers had to double or triple their spray costs to keep fungus and other plant diseases in check and followed the local flood year of 2009.

He said after having his crops wiped out three times in succession during the 2009 floods he had contemplated giving up and had “spent every cent I have getting going again”.

“People watching under the Macksville Bridge during the floods said there were pumpkins going past everywhere – they were my pumpkins,” he said.

At Nana Glen, the Bromley family are battling to coax enough tomatoes from 12-month-old vines to supply their Growers Market customers as they replant new vines in their hydroponic shadehouses, while cloudy weather slows fruit set and workers swelter in plastic igloos.

The owner of Coffs Harbour wholesaler and processor Tutti Frutti, Chris Gibbins, said they had been finding it hard to source watermelons, rockmelons and pumpkins, at one point bringing in potatoes from Western Australia to process before the Dorrigo potato harvest, delayed by late spring frosts and summer mud, finally got under way on Monday.

“Stanthorpe is a month behind where they usually are and the wet has finished the mangos off – there will be no mango season in Coffs at all,” Mr Gibbins said.

Urunga tomato grower Steve Littlehales is having two years out of the industry after 20 years in it, but still watches prices and trends. He says growers now need $16 a box to break even and big growers operating on margins of around 50c a box are making life difficult for smaller producers concentrating on high quality.

He said poor-quality fruit and vegetables salvaged from flooded areas would also be an after-effect of the Queensland deluge.

“It floods the market with garbage,” he said.



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