Oversupply dragging down pear prices for GV growers

By Alana Christensen

Goulburn Valley growers are feeling the strain as oversupply continues to drag pear prices down.

The industry’s peak body, Apple and Pear Australia Ltd, said growers were struggling with some of the lowest farm gate prices the industry could recall, labelling recent wholesale pear prices of as low as $1/kg for pears as ‘‘unsustainable’’.

Ardmona orchardist Alex Turnbull produces Packham and William pears, but said declining demand meant it was no longer a key part of his business.

He said oversupply of pears on the market had led to a depression of the market.

‘‘The cannery intakes are dropping and the William pear is really a canning product. They’re not taking as much of it now so that product is pushed onto the fresh market,’’ Mr Turnbull said.

‘‘Growers need to look at the realities of their pear business and really do some cost and profit analysis on what they’re doing and start to remove them if they’re seeing a negative or borderline result.

‘‘Supply is going to continue to be an issue.’’

More than 90 per cent of the country’s pears are produced in Victoria, with the Goulburn Valley the main source.

According to crop estimates, the pear harvest this season will produce more than 116000 tonnes, an overall 14 per cent jump, with class one production jumping by 20 per cent.

Low market prices for pears and apples over the past 18 months have resulted in growers and packers supplying apples and pears to retailers and wholesalers at below cost of production prices.

William Bartlett pears are currently selling for as low as $1/kg in Coles and $2/kg at Woolworths, and orchardist Peter Hall said while it was a complex issue, some of the blame lay with supermarkets.

‘‘The economic lifeblood of the Goulburn Valley is regulated through the tills of the retailers,’’ Mr Hall said.

‘‘People need to understand what it means when people are getting presented with really cheap product.

‘‘It costs you $2 a kilo to grow and package pears, with no margin. There’s no-one making money out of that. Not even the retailers.

‘‘It doesn’t appear like the normal supply and demand applies to fruit and vegetables.’’

Fruit Growers Victoria grower service manager Michael Crisera said growers know they need to correct oversupply.

Mr Crisera said while the industry conceded that some removal of oversupplied varieties was needed, that was no reason to supply markets at below cost of production prices, calling for more to be done to grow demand for class one grade fruit.

‘‘But with the current new season varieties commencing harvest, and on the back of last season’s poor prices, growers are seeking retailer support by purchasing quality apples and pears for a fair price instead of ridiculously low prices,’’ he said.