Costs a growing concern

SUNSHINE Coast farmers are feeling the pinch as cheaper overseas imports continue to flood the market.

The problem mirrors a trend nationally that has caused one-in-four vegetable growers pull out of the industry or go broke because they can't compete with the lower production costs - including wages - of overseas producers.

Media reports said the importation of processed fruit and vegetables was now worth $1.5 billion a year - a rise of almost 60% over seven years, according to Federal Government data.

The Brisbane Times reported interviews with major Australian food processors such as McCain and Simplot and supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths had revealed the nation's 10-year drought opened the door to a sharp rise in imported food.

Farmers were unable to meet their supply contracts, so companies started looking overseas.

What they found were reliable, quality, cut-price imports.

Now, with the drought and devastating floods over, the food processors have maintained those overseas relationships.

Diddillibah resident David Mathieson, who used to grow beans, beetroot, lettuce and zucchini, said he pulled out of farming about three years ago due to rising costs and competition.

He now sells mushrooms on behalf of another grower.

"Imports keep the prices down and then we can't afford to produce," Mr Mathieson said.

Rhonda Hammer, a former sales agent for several organic Sunshine Coast farms, said the problem had impacted a number of farmers she knew.

As a result, she is also no longer involved in the industry.

She said the consumer also needed to accept part of the blame.

"People just want to pay nothing for food," Mrs Hammer said.

"People will line up to pay $3 for coffee, yet they quibble over $2.50 for a kilogram of zucchini."

She also noted that complaints it was too expensive to feed families with fresh fruit and vegetables were unfounded, as it was still much better value, and healthier, than processed food and fast food.

Mrs Hammer encouraged people to visit local markets to purchase good food at reasonable prices, and also enjoy the social aspect of speaking with other residents and directly with farmers.

Topics:  agriculture australian government farmers imports

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