By Aaron Cordy
FRESH zucchinis have come into season with the fruit ready to be picked, packed and shipped to supermarkets. But out at Toolamba, Natural Earth Produce is one week into the season and Ross Marsolino has already walked away from 40 acres of crop and is just about ready to mulch the rest.
The way supermarkets control the market on all our daily essentials and bleed growers and producers of fresh food in Australia is little more than price gouging. The chains paid $1.80kg to farmers for zucchinis last week, then on sold them to the public for $4.99kg.
What this means is, with prices so high, product doesn’t sell and is backed up in cold storage. Subsequently, as the next crop is processed, the demand goes down because they already have a surplus that needs to be moved. Farmers are then left holding stock they can’t sell at a time they should be in full production.
If the supermarkets dropped their prices sooner, which is well within their capability, the product sells and the demand goes up and the farmers get to move their goods and continue to pay their workers.
Ross Marsolino was a wholesaler for sixteen years, owned a fruit shop for 30 years, and has now been a grower since 2015, so he knows the game from both sides of the story. But he can’t fathom why with such zucchini abundance there is a holdover on profit margin from Coles and Woolworths.
“If they [supermarkets] were retailing zucchinis at $2.99 last week, we wouldn’t have this situation because we’d be selling the stock.”
“We’ve already walked away from 40 acres, we haven’t even picked a bunch yet and it’s in full blush. And we’re picking enough quantity on the back 40 acres, but right now the more we pack the more we lose. The more cost in labour, the more it costs us to box, the more it costs in freight, we’re just wasting our f@#$ing time.”
Part of the gouge comes from the agents and wholesale merchants. For farmers, there is an element of sense using these services because it takes the hassle of finding buyers for the stock, so the farmer can concentrate on quality. And Ross knows that if it isn’t up to scratch Coles and Woolworths will send it back. But somewhere along the line the wholesalers stopped working for the farmers and began working for the supermarket consortiums, leaving farmers in the red and customers struggling to feed their families.
If a grower like Ross does pull the pin on the season, overnight it will mean 50 jobs lost. And he isn’t the only farmer feeling the pinch from the supermarket consortiums and while they know they can make a bigger profit by overcharging the customers and selling less, they’ll continue to do so without a care for who they ruin in the process.