Australians have been warned that they will have to pay more for fresh food as the industry grapples with the fallout from the bushfire crisis.
The warning came on Tuesday, following a government announcement that at least A$100 million would be made available in the form of grants for primary producers to aid in the rebuild of property and equipment.
Agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie said about 19,000 farmers, foresters and fishers were affected and urged supermarkets to do their part to help in the recovery.
“Supermarkets are letting the Australian public know that they’ll have to pay more for their red meat – yes, you will,” she said. “That they’ll have to pay more for their fruit and vegetables … (and) milk,” she said.
“It’s up to the supermarkets to not just talk about being the fresh food people, but get on with supporting in a very real and tangible way because farmers don’t grow food for free. It’s a business. I know we like to get all a bit romantic about it, but the reality is it is a business.”
“They need to make a living and that means we need to pay the cost of producing the food and through tough times such as we’re experiencing now, drought and bushfire are severely impacting input costs about farmers and now our processes in the supply chain so the other end of the supply chain needs to stump up.”
A spokesperson for Coles said in a statement to Inside FMCG that many of its suppliers “have been directly impacted by the fires and drought” and that the supermarket is “working hard to support them during this difficult time”.
“Some products, particularly in fresh produce, may be unavailable or in limited supply in the short term,” a Coles spokesperson said.
In efforts to better support fresh produce farmers, Coles is purchasing fruit and vegetables “that may be out of shape, have cosmetic blemishes or be smaller than usual”.
“None of the dairy farmers with whom we have contracts in Victoria and NSW have so far been directly impacted by the current fires however we are in regular contact with them and will provide further assistance if required.”
Woolworths said it’s “still early days” and is “assessing the full situation”.
“Our thoughts are with all of those impacted by the bushfires, including the farmers in our extended supply chain,” a spokesperson for Woolworths said.
“If we find there are farmers within our supply chain impacted by bushfires, we will be happy to discuss the ways in which we can support them to get back on their feet.”
Westpac estimates the bushfire crisis will cost the economy A$5 billion and cut up to 0.5 per cent off economic growth.
In NSW alone, the number of livestock killed as a result of bushfires has topped 13,000 and the toll is expected to climb.
Farmers and animals in the state’s south have been worst-hit, with more than 12,000 stock having died since Christmas, Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said.
“The toll is expected to continue to climb in coming days – it’s absolutely devastating for producers and our state’s agricultural sector,” he said in a statement on Monday.