Community & Business

21 May, 2024

Avocado industry in crisis

THOUSANDS of mature avocado trees are being bulldozed across the region as the market price for the fruit plummets and farmers struggle to keep up with rising costs.

By Brigitte Daley

Mareeba farmer Ron Blundell with some of the mature avocado trees on his property being bulldozed.
Mareeba farmer Ron Blundell with some of the mature avocado trees on his property being bulldozed.

According to growers, the price per tray for the fruit, which still fetches top dollar in city cafes, is half what it used to be due to the oversupply in Australia, while the cost of freight, labour, chemicals and fees have vastly risen, leaving farmers with no choice but to bulldoze their trees and start afresh.

Mareeba avocado grower Ron Blundell, who has been farming avocados since the early 1980s, said profitability was at its lowest level ever.

Mr Blundell is currently bulldozing 1500 mature trees out, while other growers nearby are getting rid of around 3500 trees.

“I am very concerned about the avocado industry on the Tablelands - I think it’s lived its day of being viable,” he said.

“Income is going down, costs are going up at a rapid rate, you just can’t continue like that, so I’ve made the decision to cease the avocado operation side of my business.

“The prices used to be $30-$40 per tray, now they are $15-$20 per tray.

“Freight has doubled in the last five years and costs such as fuel, freight, chemicals, packing, fees and charges, commission and levies have all risen significantly.

“HASP and Freshcare fees which were $700 per year a while ago have now shot up to $4000 per year.

“I feel sorry for young growers who have substantial financial commitments.”

Another grower described the state of the avocado industry on the Tablelands as the worst it had ever been.

“This season has been the worst of my entire lifetime,” he said.

He said the combination of high rainfall and continual wet weather had caused trees to die as a result of Phytophthora root rot and fruit to deteriorate, with 80% of his crop lost due to the conditions. 

“I received over 900mm on my farm in December 2023 and, in January, I could see trees beginning to be affected,” the grower said.

“By the end of February, they had lost all their leaves. That was it.

“I will be forced to bulldoze out 3000 trees and I know of several other growers who are in exactly the same position.

“I'm aware of another grower who has already bulldozed out 4000 trees and another who has bulldozed out a significant number of trees.”

In addition to the weather, the grower said the market was now flooded with the product due to the expansion of farms in our region as well as in other Australian states.

“There are too many avocados being planted with large corporate farms also being involved,” the grower said.

“Too many avocados, along with fruit that has been ‘less than ideal’ due to the continual wet weather has caused the price to crash.

“When avocados are $1.00 or $1.50, farmers are losing money. 

“Up until three years ago, prices were brilliant, there was money to be made - now we are losing money when we pick avocados so they are not even worth picking.

“For the enormous amount of time, money and effort that goes into it, there is no money in the exercise.

 “Unfortunately, the only time we get the right money is when there’s a disaster and produce is short.”

Growers like Mr Blundell now have to determine what, if any, crop they will plant to replace the avocadoes.

He said when growers have had trees in the ground for a long time it was a difficult process to “just change to something else” and options could be limited for them.

“I have decided to put that land back into cattle and limes,” Mr Blundell said.

Some growers are considering other possible options such as pumpkins.

Export markets, although potentially advantageous, are not considered to be the “silver bullets” for the crisis situation which Tablelands growers are currently facing.

“Export prices are the same as local market prices, they are not more,” a grower said.

“When you export you don’t get any more money for your produce, it just takes some of the pressure off the local market.”

Despite the farmers losing on price, avocados are still a highly-prized item in city cafes, with prices of between $12-$25 for the popular “Smashed Avo on toast”.


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