Staggering prediction on food prices
Aussie farmers say predicted food price hikes could be exacerbated by poor water management and have called for governments to take action.
An Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) report has revealed prices for fruit and vegetables are set to skyrocket over the coming months.
The analysis of the nation's horticulture industry forecast the cost of pome fruit, such as apples and pears, summer vegetables, stone fruit and table grapes, could rise from as much as 7 to 29 per cent.
But Speak Up Campaign chair Lachlan Marshall said the price hikes could be exacerbated by an inability to grow food due to poor water policy and management.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragile nature of our food supplies," he said.
"Australia has been forced to import more dairy products and wheat, and with zero water allocations there was virtually no Australian rice crop last year, and as a result we exhausted domestically grown rice.
"Australian families need to understand that their budgets will be under increased strain from staple food prices if governments do not get proactive and start doing more to support food production."
The Speak Up Campaign, which aims to be a voice for rural communities on water policy since being founded in 2015, has called for more transparency around water management decisions and the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin plan.
They have also campaigned for locals to be key to decision making and want a basin plan that delivers for communities, the environment and food security.
Mr Marshall said the increased quantities of water being sent downstream had "sacrificed water reliability" in the nation's food bowl.
He said it had led to many farmers walking off the land and resulted in others unable to produce as much food for Australian and international consumption.
He said farmers needed solutions that returned "effective water" back to irrigation communities.
"There's an assumption irrigators are asking for more water. We're not asking for more water, we're asking for access to water we're entitled to under our allocation," Mr Marshall said. "We're not asking for the environment to give up water, quite the opposite.
"What we need to see is a holistic approach that protects our environment but also returns reliability to people who use that water to grow the nation's food."
He said until that occurred Aussie families would continue to be hit with higher prices for their fresh and staple foods.
The ABARES report blamed the food price increase on the lack of overseas backpackers and working holiday makers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It has forecast a drop in fruit production by as much as 17 per cent and vegetable production by about 2 per cent due to a lack of labour to harvest crops.
Fruit prices are expected to rise most as fruit production is likely to be most adversely affected by reduced labour supply, but the higher than average fruit prices are not expected to occur until well into autumn.
National Farmers' Federation Horticulture Council executive officer Tyson Cattle said growers were in desperate need of harvest labour and had been for the better part of a year.
"Horticulture was predicted to be the growth industry as part of our $100bn goal by 2030 for Australian agriculture," he said.
"However, if we can't access an efficient, competent and reliable workforce to get the crop picked and packed, we will struggle to reach that goal.
"Our critical issue remains that we need to bring in numbers at scale and immediately."
The supply of overseas workers on working holiday maker visas fell by 64 per cent in 2020 to about 61,000.
Originally published as Staggering prediction on food prices