A little over 3 weeks ago, South East Queensland experienced 200mm of rain within a period of 48 hours which has caused widespread flooding and crop devastation. Due to this, we’re seeing a major effect on the following products: Broccolini, Broccoli, Wild Rocket, Baby Spinach, Wild Rocket, Green Beans and lastly, Iceberg Lettuce; the produce most affected with both crop losses and quality issues.
We’re now beginning to see the effects of these crop losses with producers being unable to plant due to saturated soil and fungal diseases that have now attacked crops that were not initially affected by the flooding, with further losses of production forecasted.
Most lettuce lines take approximately 12-16 weeks to grow during this time of year and it is expected to take up to 8 weeks before growers can catch up in the crop planting and harvest. Bill Bulmer, a Victorian grower and chair of industry body AusVeg, said that “there was nothing out there in the fields”, when he recently toured farms in Queensland. Intermittent rains have also made it harder to replant fresh crops which could result in a “yo-yo” effect where supply comes and goes over coming months.
Nationally, weather events haven't been accomodating with VIC Foodbomb fruit and veg supplier, Biviano Direct, stating that whilst “the local Victorian season was ending and the QLD season was ready to begin, The Sunshine State was smashed by the heavy rains which delayed the start of the season and was then followed by SA being hit by an early onset of unseasonably low temperatures”.
From lettuce to poultry, 2022 has seen a glut of food supply hiccups which have led to soaring prices and spurred global fast food giants such as KFC and Subway to adapt their products and/or menus. KFC has resorted to putting cabbage in its burgers after already having to cut items from their menu just a few months ago amid shortages of chicken, whilst Subway outlets are making do without lettuce altogether. Foodbomb fried chicken venue, Super Nash Brothers, recently shared that its go-to substitute for Iceberg lettuce has been Cos lettuce or slaw mix.
NSW Fruit and Veg Supplier, James Scarano from Fruitilicious shared with us his substitution recommendations for venues and customers seeking alternatives (where possible):
Consumers are also facing exorbitant pricing in grocery aisles with a head of Iceberg lettuce costing $12 at independent stores. While elevated prices, which has seen some growers receiving $80 to $100 per scarce box of lettuce rather than a typical $14 to $16, are largely the result of climate events, Australia is still grappling with pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and persistent labour shortages, as well as the spikes in fertiliser and fuel prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, in its quarterly outlook, The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences stated that, “In normal times, fruit and vegetable prices tend to recover quickly and return to normal as production in other areas becomes available to fill supply gaps, however, in 2022–23 almost all aspects of the supply chain are facing inflationary pressures”.
So, while it might be tempting to think farmers and suppliers are profiting from the high prices, the reality is that prices are high because many simply don't have any crops to sell. Carlo Trimboli, the chair of the NSW Chamber of Fresh Produce said that "wholesale supply is down by 8% and as long as the supply is low and demand continues, so will the high prices…no-one is really benefiting".
Across many of our suppliers' market reports, we have seen a consensus on abundant supplies across:
Beetroot, Brussel Sprouts, Celery, Leeks, QLD Tomatoes, Eggplant and Mushrooms.
Our thoughts are with all farmers struggling during this time and working to the best of their ability to get back on track. We hope to see supply back up to their standard production very soon. (We're rooting for you!)
For more fruit & veg content: Should You Be Ordering Prepared Fruit & Veg?
VIC venues, check out our: Best Fruit & Veg Suppliers in Melbourne
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