Thousands of avocados are being dumped by frustrated farmers causing outrage among Aussie consumers with many blaming major supermarkets, including Coles and Woolworths, for the recent blow.
The crippling inflation hike is driving food costs to new heights, but avocado prices remain at an all-time low as a result of unusually high supply, Yahoo News Australia understands.
Queensland farmers have revealed the increasing cost of labour and shipping in Australia is what's threatening local farmers, with one saying it's cheaper for them to dump them than it is to ship them out.
Jan De Lai, from Atherton in far north Queensland, spotted an enormous pile of avocados left to rot at her local tip last week. She shared the "devastating" images on Facebook.
Some thought major supermarkets were to blame for supposedly choosing imported fruit over locally grown.
Hundreds criticized the "waste" of food, calling for more support for Australian farmers.
"This is what happens when farmers are forced to sign contracts with big chain supermarkets to survive and then the supermarket chain doesn’t want your produce," one person wrote.
"Not the first time this has happened. The fruit is not worth the cost it takes to package and transport it," another said in the comments.
Woolworths, Coles respond to avocado crisis
Atherton farmer and Avocados Australia board member Jim Kochi shared with 2GB’s Ben Fordham the heartbreaking impact rising costs have had on local farmers.
"To go to all the effort to grow this stuff and actually pick it … and then as it comes through the grading tables we sort it into different grades, but these lower grades just don’t have enough money in them to warrant spending the extra money on packing and labour and transport and sending them all the way down to lovely Sydney," he said.
Increased competition from imported avocados from New Zealand is one of the reasons to blame, Angela Nason, director of local produce retailer Tablelands to Tabletop, told the Cairns Post.
But Woolworths confirmed they still support local farmers and said "100% of our avocado supply is Australian grown".
"We continue to work closely with our suppliers to deliver great local produce to the millions of customers who shop with us every week," they told Yahoo News Australia in a statement.
Coles confirmed they too only stock local avocados, and none from New Zealand.
"Coles is currently stocking 100% Australian avocados in our supermarkets," a spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
'Oversupply' of avocados has led to dumping
Mr Kochi confirmed there are currently no New Zealand avocados being sold in Australia, and that the issue comes down to too much supply.
Over the past decade, farmers planted more trees to keep up with demand, mostly from the hospitality industry.
However, due to Covid, restaurants and cafes were selling less, leaving farmers with excess.
"Favourable growing conditions and recently-planted avocado trees have increased the volume of avocados being harvested in Australia in recent years," a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
"Those trees are now coming into production – and coming into production in a big way," Mr Kochi confirmed.
"The cost of putting that stuff in a package, including the labour and the cost of packaging and the cost of transport is just not worthwhile. So the option is just to dump it."
Increase labour cost for farmers
As of April 28, farmworkers who were paid 'per piece' on Australian farms now have a minimum wage of at least $25.41 an hour, under the new Horticulture Award.
It's the first time workers on Australian farms will be guaranteed a minimum wage with fears the move will impact farmers.
"It’s our experience that trying to harvest, thin or prune fruit using locals or backpackers being paid per hour simply does not work," Nicole Giblett from Newton Orchards in Manjimup, Western Australia, told Yahoo News Australia.
"For example, [during 2021's] harvest we had to pay wages as people refused to work for piece rate, and our labour picking costs skyrocketed."
The increase in labour costs could see the cost flow down to consumers, particularly when shopping in major supermarkets.
But Woolworths insists customers will continue to benefit from the low cost of avocados.
"We pay the market price for avocados, which is determined by supply and demand," a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News.
The solution to food waste
After seeing the devastating avocado crisis online, many people offered a potential solution to the food waste issue.
"Farmers should let the public pay $10 or $20 to come and pick their own like the strawberry farms used to," one suggested on Facebook.
"Why can’t they be sold or people donate an entry fee and come fill up," another asked.
Many suggested donating them to local businesses that might be struggling.
"They could be sold locally instead of being given to big supermarkets and markets," one said. This would avoid the high transport costs but will ensure less wastage.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.