Avocado glut hurting growers
Lockdowns, labour shortages, plummeting prices, increased plantings and a whopper harvest have all led to a perfect storm of problems for our avocado growers. While big yields are normally great news for growers, this particular bumper season is causing more headaches than happiness. With foodservice in Victoria and NSW shuttered for months, huge volumes of fruit are instead being channelled into retail. This had led to an avocado glut that has seen the fruit on sale for as little as $1 each. That’s below the cost of production for some farmers, who are already struggling with labour costs.
Avos on the up and set to rise further
The majority of avocados are grown in Queensland, but the fruit is also produced in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. According to Avocados Australia CEO John Tyas, growing conditions have been good across all regions this year. Growers in WA alone have seen a 233 percent increase on last year. Australia’s production from now until Christmas is expected to be up 150 percent more than last year.
And with avocados increasing in popularity – thanks in great part to our love of “smashed avo” on toast – more growers have been planting avocados in response. An updated long-term forecast suggests Australia’s avocado production is expected to increase to about 170,000 tonnes by 2026, more than double the 2020-21 crop of 78,085 tonnes.
“Particularly over the last five years, there’s been a lot of new plantings,” Tyas says. “About half of all trees planted are yet to come into full production, so this increase in supply will continue. A lot of young trees started to come into production this year, and combined with really good fruit set and overall production, this has led to a massive increase in volumes.”
Prices slashed and fruit dumped
In the past, Hass avocados have sold for as much as $4 each. At the time of writing, Woolies was selling the fruit for $1.10 each; Coles for $1.50. With so much quality fruit available and prices so low, some growers aren’t even bothering to send lesser-quality fruit to market.
“Our main line is what we call ‘premium grade’ avocados,” Tyas says. “Then we have ‘class one’, which is a grade below that. So that could be fruit which has minor skin blemishes. Some growers aren’t even packing class one fruit. They’re just dumping it. There’s so much premium fruit available, there’s no viable market for that class one fruit.”
When supply outstrips demand and the fruit isn’t moving through the market quickly enough, this can also lead to problems with maintaining fruit quality.
“That’s why we need to keep the fruit moving through the supply chain,” Tyas says. “Best practice is fewer than 21 days from harvest to retail. But when you’ve got people still harvesting and there’s still fruit in cold rooms, it starts to build up and get old.”
But it’s not just Aussie avos that are flooding retail. New Zealand imports are also coming in strong, often undercutting Australian avocados at the supermarket.
“New Zealand has always supplied the Australian market during the spring and summer months,” Tyas says. “A few decades ago, most of our supply was out of the northern parts of Australia, and they harvest through the cooler months of the year. It’s the southern regions in Australia that supply into spring and summer. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve seen a rapid expansion in southwest WA, to supply that summer period.
“In the past, most of our summer avocados came from New Zealand. But now we’ve got a situation where Australia has rapidly expanded its production so we can meet consumer demand year-round. There’s not really a need for New Zealand avocados anymore. But they’ve established a market here over decades. You can’t just switch that off overnight.”
Avocado glut, worker deficit
Ongoing labour shortages have only added to growers’ problems. Because there’s so much competition for labour and there’s a shortage, some growers are having to pay higher wages usual just to get workers to help them with their harvest.
“The biggest problem is actually getting enough staff,” Tyas says. “Then they’re having to pay those people more than they normally would. And at the same time, they’re getting lower returns. So it’s been a very, very tough year for growers this year.”
It’s hoped that the long-awaited agriculture visa will help ease worker woes in the coming months, but Tyas says that this depends on how the visa is rolled out.
“One of the key things is that it needs to be something that smaller growers can access,” he says. “The Pacific labour program is good for big growers. They can afford to do that. But for smaller growers, they really struggle to participate.”
Fresh hope on the horizon
With lockdown now over in NSW and Victoria soon to reopen, this should help to get more fruit moving. And with summer on its way, consumer demand is also expected to increase.
“When our two largest cities are in lockdown, that definitely has an impact,” Tyas says. “The foodservice sector is about 20 percent of the avocado market. So we’re hopeful that we’ll see a big uplift in consumption as these cities come out of lockdown. And as we come into warmer weather, we generally see an increase in consumer demand. So we’re hoping that those two factors will see the market strengthen over the next few weeks.”
For consumers, there’s one very simple way to show your support for our growers: buy Aussie avos. With so much quality fruit on offer at such bargain prices, there really has never been a better time to make the most of “Our Green Gold”. Make sure you ask your retailer for Australian avocados if you can’t find them in-store.
“We invite avocado lovers to choose Australian avocados this season,” Tyas says. “And try our delicious new recipes, be it sweet or savoury, in support of Australian farmers.”
You can find a huge range of avocado recipes at australianavocados.com.au