THIS summer’s weather may be a let-down, but Sydneysiders can enjoy some of the lowest fruit and vegetable prices in years.
”You better believe it … I’m selling four mangoes for $5. Last year it was two for $5,” said Frank Vecchio, owner of the Wynyard Park fruit stand in Sydney’s CBD. In his 20 years of business, Mr Vecchio said he has not seen such quantities of produce at fruit and vegetable wholesale markets.
The chief executive officer of NSW Chamber of Fruit and Vegetable Industries, Colin Gray, said the oversupply was caused by a decline in consumer demand due to the recent unseasonal wet weather. Consequently, wholesale and retail prices have fallen.
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”The problem with the weather is that people are not buying as much, not enjoying barbecues with the fruit and salad bowls,” Mr Gray said.
In particular, the cooler weather has not enthused customers to buy traditional summer fruits such as mangoes, stone fruits and watermelons, according to Bill Chalk, wholesaler and partner of Southern Cross Produce.
He said wholesale prices for mangoes were $1-$2 per kilo compared with $5 per kilo last year and white peaches were $1-$1.50 per kilo, the lowest in years.
”The lower prices are a great thing for the public but it’s heartbreaking for the farmers,” said Mr Chalk,
While Sydneysiders have been grumbling about the cold start to summer and constantly overcast days, farmers on the central and mid-north coast are also being affected by the gloomy skies, which they say has stunted summer fruit production.
“It’s hard to grow things without sunshine,” said chairman of the Central Coast Horticulture branch of the NSW Farmers Association, Timothy Kemp.
“The amount of consistent cloudy days we have had, especially during flowering, has had a huge impact – it is no good for summer fruit, particularly stone fruit and avocado.”
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He estimates “at least” a 50 per cent downturn in produce from the region.
“The production of nectarines and peaches has slowed right down, and the stone fruit season is staring to wind up so it’s too late for the sun to come out now.”
Robyn and Henry Willner have grown and sold avocados at Bobs Farm at Port Stephen’s for about 10 years, but said they could not remember a season this overcast and wet.
“We’re bracing ourselves for a decline in fruit production next season,” Mrs Willner said.
“Because there is no sun, the bees haven’t been coming out to pollinate the blossoms on our trees.
“Next year, we’ll see the impact of what the cold and wet weather has really done to us.”
Adding to the farmers’ woes is that people have been slow to buy the fruit that is available, Mr Kemp said.
“People aren’t eating it, no one wants to eat fruit when it is cool,” he said.
In Hawaii the summer mango and lychee seasons are anticipated with much delight. But summer is also a special time for mainland fruit: peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and cherries — fruits that need a cooler climate to flourish.
These luscious seasonal fruits come mostly from San Joaquin Valley in California, where fruit farmers are in the midst of a harvest that will continue through the end of summer.
In early April the weather warmed up after some adverse conditions, and the set of fruit on trees was promising, according to Bill Slattery of Kingsburg Orchard, a supplier of fruit to Hawaii markets.
Sometimes stone fruit in Hawaii can be disappointing for its lack of flavor, poor texture and bruising. Remember that these fruit have to endure travel over a few thousand miles over several days; their condition is not for lack of effort on the growers’ part.
“We pick our fruit at the optimum of ripeness,” Slattery said. “We pick a tree two, three or four times by hand; our pickers have worked for us for many years and know ripe fruit. Even though a fruit may be firm, it is picked tree-ripe and has a good flavor profile.”
Fruit are packed immediately from the field, cooled, then shipped via refrigerated ocean container (occasionally via air) to the islands. The cold chain is maintained all the way to the supermarket.