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AU: Asparagus imports a necessary evil
Coles supermarket was this week fined $61,200 for displaying Australian Grown signs above imported asparagus and other fruit and vegetables.
Grower Dirk Mostert says that while he was disappointed to hear of those incidences, the nature of the seasonal asparagus production cycle makes imports unavoidable.
“Because it’s only a short growing season, it’s a Spring vegetable, it’s just a reality of life that once that stops, then supermarkets import it,” says Mr Mostert.
Mostert says that when the two do overlap in the market, he has no concern about pairing South West WA asparagus against imported product.
“I’ll back my asparagus against any imported asparagus,” says Mr Mostert.
“Our wholesaler sells imported asparagus up in Perth, and he always likes a bit of pre-warning when our stuff comes up because the buyers in Perth, they just walk straight past the imported stuff. As soon as they see a box of local asparagus, they are prepared to wait a week or two before they go back for imported asparagus.”
Instead, the threat of competition to WA markets comes from production in eastern states.
“When Victoria starts to fill their market, then they tend to load their trucks up and send it over to WA,” says Mr Mostert.
“That really affects our market. You see the prices really come back then. That’s our major competitor.”
In spite of the challenges, Mostert says the South West region equally affords growers opportunities, with the mining boom prompting an unexpected growth in markets.
“With the mining last year, there was a request to send our asparagus up to the chefs in the mining camps. They were really looking for it. Our wholesaler in Perth was getting quite a few orders for it. He was pleased to be able to send it on to them and they were quite rapt with it.”
Mostert is not overly concerned about how a flagging resources sector might affect those newly developed markets.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. People are still up there and they still have to eat. Once you’ve got a taste for nice asparagus, it’s a bit hard to lose it.”
He is confident that with an established regional banner to grow under and favourable seasonal conditions, South West growers are in a healthy position leading into harvest over the next two months.
“Over the years, we’ve really pushed the South West asparagus. We have a name for it, we have a reputation for it and our quality is first of anybody in Australia. I’ll back it, no worries at all.”
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