Fresh chillies are sorted into premium and seconds; the lower grade peppers are collected in large bins and processed.
Fresh chillies are sorted into premium and seconds; the lower grade peppers are collected in large bins and processed. ROB BARICH

Wasted fruit costs millions

BUNDABERG region farmers are losing millions as up to half of their fruit and vegetables end up on the scrap heap — usually because of tiny blemishes.

Every year, growers watch the fruits of their labour going to waste or sold for a fraction of the usual price because of cosmetic marks such as slight discolouration or scratches, which have no negative impact on quality.

Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers executive officer Peter Peterson said the issue of fruit wastage was a major concern to growers in the Bundaberg region, and across Australia.

“A lot of the large retail stores have driven up Australians’ expectations of what quality fruit is so much that perfectly good fruit is now sold as seconds,” Mr Peterson said.

“If there is a shortage of first-grade fruit they might accept it, but there is an unsustainable and unreasonably high level of fruit going to waste — it either gets dumped or never makes it to market at all.”

Mr Peterson said sometimes there was so much fruit with slight imperfections that growers could not justify harvesting it.

“Last year some growers reported 30% of their crop didn’t go to market because it didn’t meet specifications,” he said.

“To put on money for fertiliser, time, water and labour and get no return — it really adds up.”

Austchilli director David De Paoli said some of the so-called second-rate fruit could be used for processing, but it would usually only sell for a third of the price of unblemished produce.

“It is heartbreaking, but it is reality. It’s human nature to want the best,” Mr De Paoli said.

“It is a problem because people are being forced out of business — with this rain, some growers might not even get 50% of crops up to specifications.

“Not everyone can sell their produce as seconds and the market for seconds isn’t big enough.”

Monduran Citrus manager Mike Harrison said most of the unsuitable fruit was turned into juice or sold at roadside stalls.

“The fruit sold at roadside stalls is sold at reduced prices, but we get nothing for the juice fruit,” Mr Harrison said.

Between 5% and 10% of the crop, he said, was unable to be sold to supermarkets.

“Shoppers buy with their eyes,” he said.

“Even if the fruit has a scratch, it still tastes the same, but people don’t want it.”

Mr Harrison said he was unsure how to let shoppers know that marked or odd shaped fruit was unaffected inside.

“Public awareness is very important,” he said.

Bundaberg zucchini and sweet potato grower Dean Akers said he did not believe the market would change in a hurry because the supermarket chains called the shots.

“Sometimes you can’t do a thing about it, like if you have the weather against you or rain at the wrong time,” Mr Akers said.

“But it won’t change while chain stores have those regulations.

“It’s their rules and that is what growers have to do if they want to sell their fruit.”



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