Farmers fear for future as supermarkets crunch costs

Bob Katter's wild confrontation with Ross Cadell

Source: AAP

Farmers and producers have warned of a mass exodus from the agriculture industry because of low prices for goods paid for by major supermarkets.

A Senate committee examining supermarket prices heard from farmers in Orange in NSW’s central west on Tuesday, with growers laying bare their struggles in dealing with the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths.

Orchard owner Guy Gaeta, who grows apples and cherries, said major supermarkets had set prices too low to buy produce, leaving an unviable future for growers.

“Every year on the news, Woolies is saying they pay people millions of dollars, but yet they put on us whatever they want,” he told the inquiry

“At the rate we’re going … there won’t be any family farms left within five to 10 years, or you’re going to have corporate farms and they’re going to be as good as citizens to the consumer as what they are now, and it is scary.

“If you don’t have family farms, you’re going to lose your food security.

“If you think that consumers are paying a lot of money for the fruit now, you wait for when we are gone.”

The Senate inquiry was set up following claims of price gouging by major supermarkets to consumers.

But primary producers have warned the market power of supermarkets has meant they can charge low prices for to buy goods.

Fellow orchard farmer Ian Pearce told the committee the prices for goods set by supermarkets had charged little in several years, despite labour costs increasing.

“In 2011, we got $2.37 a kilo and $2.55 a kilo. Last year in September, similar timing, $2.60 and $2.57 a kilo,” he said.

“It’s just a terrible situation. What’s going to happen? You don’t reinvest, you can’t reinvest and I can’t see a future.”

Pearce took aim at the market share of Coles and Woolworths, saying there was an imbalance in the industry.

“Even though my wife and I have two sons, who in their early 20s have a passion for agriculture, I really do not see a future for them doing what we currently do,” he said.

“We’re at the point where we’ve got to make some very serious business decisions.”

Earlier, NSW Farmers vice-president Rebbeca Reardon called for divestiture powers to be imposed so the major supermarkets’ market share could be broken up.

“We require a significant overhaul of our legislative and regulatory reforming competition, including the introduction of divestiture powers to address the high market concentration we’ve got,” she said.

“The concentration is often resulting in growers receiving prices that are below their marginal cost of production, but also being subjected to unfair trade practices and unconscionable conduct.”

Outside the hearing, independent MP Andrew Gee and Queensland MP Bob Katter held a press conference accusing the major parties of inaction on supermarket pricing.

The MPs stood alongside staffers dressed in inflatable pig costumes holding a banner saying: “Stop supermarket hogs and National Party porkies!”

It sparked a fiery interaction between Gee and Nationals senator Ross Cadell. He accused Gee, who sensationally quit the party more than a year ago, of being a “stunt man”.

“You did nothing when you were a Nat because all you’re about is the stunts,” Cadell said.

“You’re all about the words, never about the work. You love the paycheck, but you hate the hard job. And these people here (farmers) have been suffering under your watch.

Katter then accused Cadell of playing politics.

The exchange became heated when Katter approached Cadell and told him to stop interrupting.

“Now, shut up,” Katter said, pointing his finger at Cadell.

Gee said the independents on the crossbench and Katter would introduce a bill to cut back major supermarkets’ power and limit their profits on fruit and vegetables.

– with AAP

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.