Widespread flooding in Australia’s potato-growing regions has prompted record prices for far north Queensland growers who are long overdue for a pay rise.
But it may be a case of too little, too late for the once proud potato stronghold of the Atherton Tableland, 80 kilometres inland of Cairns, where only 27 farmers still grow spuds.
David Nix is one of them and he says growers are fetching the best prices in 60 years as a result of the failed autumn harvest in southern growing regions.
“We got up to $1,500 a ton for bulk Sebago potatoes which is absolutely unheard of. [The] normal price is about $400.
“Also Kipfler has been dire straits all year and they’ve reached $4,000 a ton.”
Nix said growers haven’t had it all their own way, with supply shortages making seed for planting very hard to come.
Yields have also been down after a very mild winter.
“Potatoes don’t like hot nights and we got a lot of hot nights through winter so even those who grew potatoes didn’t do all that well because they only got half a crop so nature can be very cruel,” Mr Nix said.
The contrast in fortunes could not be more stark for far north Queensland growers, who for years had felt the squeeze as southern states ramped up production and extended growing seasons.
“Even half a crop at four times the price is way better than a full crop at the cost of production ’cause that’s what it was at and there was no profit at all, didn’t matter how many potatoes you grew,” he said.
Nix, Horticulture Industry Australia’s Queensland representative for potatoes, said it would take at least a year for the market to correct itself as southern states struggled to achieve production.
“The crops are not performing so we’ll probably go into next year with a shortage but maybe not as short as this one.
“I think we’ll see at least another 12 months before this catches up.”
In the short-term, he said it augured well for Atherton Tableland growers still digging spuds in the next eight weeks or so.
Meanwhile, increased demand from processors Smiths and Arnotts would help make up for lost ground in the fresh potato market in the longer term, he said.
Source: ABC Rural