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Warm winter prompts produce glut

Eliza Rogers and Suzannah Baker, Tuesday June 10, 2014 - 13:25 EST
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Bundaberg farmer Gino Marcon with his tomatoes. - ABC

A tomato and capsicum grower says unseasonably warm weather is triggering an oversupply from the country's production areas.

Gino Marcon, from Bundaberg in Queensland, says growth hasn't slowed like it should coming into winter, causing overlaps between the southern and northern crops.

He says it's depressing prices for growers, but offering consumers a good deal.

"Farmers' cost of production is around about $2 a kilo across the board. That relates to a retail price of around about $4-$4.50 a kilo," he said.

"I think retail prices should be sitting around $3.99 a kilo to say $4.99 a kilo. Consumers should be able to afford really good salads and vegetables this year."

He can't control the weather, but Mr Marcon has changed his planting to try to avoid a disease spread by whitefly in the warmer wetter months.

He's tried to avoid the early onset of yellow leaf curl virus by planting about a month later in February and March.

"With other measures, we've employed quarantine measures as well, so far, it's looking great."

It works in his crop, grown in several greenhouses and polyhouses, but Mr Marcon says it's much harder to control in outdoor tomatoes.

Disease is just one of the many major setbacks that have riddled the tomato industry in recent years.

A combination of cheap imports, high input costs, supermarket price wars and the high Aussie dollar have led to the fall of some big growers.

And recent free trade deals with Asia have offered no relief.

Mr Marcon, who's one of only a few tomato growers left in the Bundaberg region, says the vegetable needs more opportunities, supported by stronger relationships between farmers and politicians.

"What I'd probably like to see is a fair bit more input from farmers into government policy."

He's working on setting up export links with Hong Kong and China, which he hopes will eventuate in the next six months.

Cyclone damage in the north

Bowen growers say the predicament would be much worse if cyclone Ita had not reduced vegetable crops by up to one third in April.

Carl Walker from the Bowen-Gumlu growers group says the solution to the market glut is to eat more tomatoes.

"The overlap that we've had because of the warmer weather down south has really only put the same amount of product on the market as if none of us were hit by a cyclone.

"There's not really an oversupply at the moment, there's an under demand.

"People are just not buying enough at the moment," Mr Walker said.

The Queensland tomato harvest will continue until the end of the year.


© ABC 2014

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