Vegetable growers in southern Queensland are enjoying a surge in the demand and price for their homegrown produce during the coronavirus lockdown. It comes as supermarkets report some of the strongest retail figures on record due to increased demand from shoppers opting for healthy produce.
It is a welcome reprieve for drought-stricken vegetable farmers who remain in the grip of what has been named the longest drought in living memory. But not all vegetable growers have experienced the same benefits. Farmers who grow specialist produce destined for dinner tables in restaurants across the state have been crippled by the coronavirus shutdown of the hospitality industry. For those growers, produce has gone unpicked and unsold.
Restaurants are set to reopen under relaxed guidelines this weekend, but for many growers in the Scenic Rim region — which neighbours Australia's 'salad bowl', the Lockyer Valley — the damage to their livelihoods has already been done.
Like many growers in the Scenic Rim, Mitch Brimblecombe has benefited from supermarket panic buying. The Kalbar farmer grows staple vegetables such as pumpkins and onions, which shoppers have been stocking up on during lockdown. While the vegetable farmer has welcomed the surge in demand for his produce, he said he and other growers were still struggling amid the ongoing drought. He said the drought had reduced farmers' underground water supply, which had impacted on crop yields.
"We are only operating at 30 to 40 per cent of our irrigated capacity overall," Mr Brimblecombe said. "Drought really affected the volumes of pumpkins that were produced this season, and then having COVID come on top of that, it caused quite a demand for pumpkins.
"It is really good to get a win on a crop every now and again, but at the end of the day, you need that win to fill the voids of the drought where you're not growing crop or have underperforming crop. The margins these days are quite slim and you need that yield, that quality and at least an average price to break even or make a little bit. For the last six months the yields haven't been there. The prices might be there but the yields haven't been, so what do you do?"