Potato shortage never this bad in Australia
The tuber shoots up in price as farmers struggle in the face of heavy rain and a cold winter
By James Wong, Naomi Neilson
The chips are down for Australia’s potato lovers.
Heavy rain, particularly in New South Wales, combined with a cold winter have led to tight supply and higher prices.
“Pretty much every state got affected in some way. We probably only just broke even,” said potato farmer Anthony Failla, whose family have been farming potatoes outside of Melbourne for more than 50 years.
The family says they have never seen a shortage as bad.
“Supermarkets weren’t able to fill their shelves,” Mr Failla’s sister Christina de Sousa said.
“We process potato cakes, our competitors completely ran out of stock.”
That has all had an impact on prices. One of the major upward movers in an otherwise soft Consumer Price Index result released on Wednesday was vegetables (up 12.5 per cent for the year and 2.5 per cent in the December quarter).
Potatoes, along with broccoli and cauliflower, were called out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as leading prices upwards.
Potatoes Victoria chairman Frank Rovers says the low yields are due to farmers not being able to plant their crops because of bad weather.
“The planting season in July and August was very wet, so they couldn’t get onto the fields to plant the crops. You end up with a window where nothing’s been planted for a period of time,” he said.
“Certainly there was a bit of a spike in price because the opportunity to plant that wasn’t there but other growers compensated so there wasn’t a [major] shortage.”
While consumers have been feeling the pinch, some were willing to absorb increases in prices as long as they were getting local produce.
“I’m happy with market fluctuations as long as it doesn’t always go up,” shopper Peter Bazzana told Fairfax Media at a Sydney market.
“It’s a reality. It’s the size of the market, the size of the population. I’d rather the price varies because we get local.”
Increased fruit and vegetable prices can also be a positive for independent grocers says operations manager of Trim’s Fresh Fruit and Veg Leichardt, Alex Electri.
“Obviously yeah, because we can compete. Our produce is a lot better. That’s the feedback we’re getting from a lot of customers,” he said.
The good news is that the pain at checkout should be easing in the coming months as a new growing season increases supply.
“There’s signs of [the shortage] reducing now. I would anticipate that in the next six weeks everything will be stabilised and back to normal again,” said Mr Failla.