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Labor issues & produce oversupply creates difficult times for avocado growers

Australia: Avocado prices plummet due to oversupply

Spectacular growth in avocado production has now clashed with increased competition as trays of New Zealand and Western Australian Hass variety undercut local fruit at the supermarket. As a result, NSW avocados currently being harvested are sold under the cost of production, at about $16 a tray or $1 a kilogram - the same price growers were getting in 2004. With zero market for second-grade fruit, all that product is being buried at packing houses.

The price last year was four to five times what it is now, with COVID restricted restaurant trade responsible for some of that. Historically high prices in Australia have lured foreign imports and now the situation is worrying for growers who understand that half of all trees in the ground have yet to bear fruit.

Queenslandcountrylife.com.au reports that, as a result poor prices - especially during glut seasons - are likely to persist, putting pressure on other varieties like Shepherd, grown around the Atherton, Qld area, where older trees are already being pulled out of the ground.

Only recently, avocados have been advertised for as little as $1 each. Although this is great for shoppers, it is not so great for avocado growers. Russell Delroy is one of these. He has been growing avocados in Western Australia's South West since the late 1980s.

In the intervening years and probably thanks to the popularity of dishes like "smashed avo" lots of other growers have planted avocado trees too. This now means that there is an avocado glut. As there now is a lack of backpacker labor due to Covid restrictions, Delroy has spent the past two years battling a horticultural storm.

"We're moving into oversupply and very difficult economic returns and on top of that we've had all the complications of labor supply, sourcing labor supply to be able to harvest and process our crops has just been incredibly difficult," he told abc.net.au.

To complete this year's harvest, Delroy has paid to bring in 70 workers from the Pacific Islands under the Commonwealth's Seasonal Worker Program. For Delroy, it's meant a total outlay of $400,000, including $175,000 for hotel quarantine, $105,000 for flights and $120,000 in wages for a new staff member to manage the workers. That's before he pays the workers' wages and superannuation.

Delroy says that at $1 an avocado, he's losing money, at $1.50 he's breaking even and at $2 he's making "quite reasonable profits".


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