Farmers urge shopper calm amid COVID-19

Liv Casben |

Farmers have called for calm amid supply chain concerns saying there is plenty of fresh produce in the field and that the competition watchdog should monitor the situation.

Supermarkets have reported empty shelves across parts of Queensland, NSW and Victoria with some being overwhelmed by panic-buying as COVID-19 continues to impact the Australian workforce.

NSW Farmers President James Jackson said there were good production levels of fresh food despite the challenging weather of the past few months and urged shoppers not to panic buy.

“Our growers are sending plenty of produce down to the Sydney Markets, and we’re working on making sure farm businesses can continue to harvest these crops,” Mr Jackson said.

While farmers have reported opportunistic price hikes amongst some retailers.

“Sadly, we’ve seen some companies and individuals use the scarcity of tests and images of empty shelves as an opportunity to lift their prices, so we would ask the ACCC to keep a close eye on retailers to make sure they don’t bump up prices above any movements in the farm gate price of fresh fruit and vegetables.”

NSW Farmers has also called on state and federal governments and the big supermarkets to urgently look at ways to supply farmers with Rapid Antigen Tests so they can keep the food chain supplied. 

“The big challenge for the agricultural sector now is sick workers and a lack of access to Rapid Antigen Tests, which are combining to create these broader supply chain issues you hear about,” said the NSW Farmers boss.

“We’ve seen some positive announcements, but the fact remains that the fresh food we enjoy is grown on Australian farms, and if our farmers can’t get it out of their fields it won’t make it to supermarket shelves,” Mr Jackson said.

New guidelines being considered by national cabinet will see a return of fruit and vegetables to the supermarket shelves within the week according to the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance.

The group’s chief executive Michael Rogers had warned that fruit and vegetables could rot in the fields because of the supply chain issues and a shortage of workers due to COVID-19.

The guidelines issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee change the definition of close contacts for those exposed to COVID-19 working in critical food and grocery production, manufacturing, logistics and distribution facilities

“The measures that change requirements for close contacts which have been announced are very welcome because they put capacity back in the system, but it’s still going to be a very tight situation,” Mr Rogers told AAP on Monday.

Mr Rogers said he expects supermarket shelves will begin to fill over the next week as a result of the changes.

The peak industry body for the Australian vegetable and potato industries also continues to feel the impact of COVID-19. 

In a statement to AAP the CEO Michael Coote has also called for the guidelines to be adopted.

“Our growers are still feeling pressure from worker shortages of pickers and packers in the country, and the additional pressure of isolation is putting further pressure on vegetable producers, as they struggle to find alternative staff to fill the void.”