Power impacts food costs

By Country News

A NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into fresh food pricing has been told skyrocketing electricity prices and government charges for irrigation water have a direct impact on the cost and availability of fresh food for NSW people.

The inquiry is exploring a number of topics including the relationship between wholesale prices paid to farmers and the retail price paid by consumers and the impact of drought, climate change and extreme weather events on prices.

National Irrigators Council chief executive officer Steve Whan said irrigation was critical to the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables in NSW and, without irrigated agricultural production, the state would be importing much of the food that appeared in its fresh food markets.

‘‘By value 80 per cent of NSW’s vegetables come from irrigated production, 76 per cent of fruit and nuts, 90 per cent of grapes, 55 per cent of dairy production, 100 per cent of rice, along with a significant proportion of many other grains,’’ Mr Whan said.

‘‘But farmers growing irrigated crops are seeing massive increases in costs; electricity costs, in particular, are making production less viable. Our submission includes a table ranking NSW prices as the fifth highest in the world (for cost).

‘‘Every time a farmer pumps water onto their crop they use power and, if costs don’t come back down, they will be unable to supply the affordable fresh food NSW people reasonably expect to see.’’

NSW Irrigators Council’s Stefanie Schulte said it was vital the NSW Parliament recognised the cost of inputs had the greatest impact on cost of production.

‘‘Farmers are being squeezed from both sides; production costs (some controlled by government) are going up while at the same time pressure is being applied to keep retail costs down. It’s not a sustainable situation,’’ Ms Schulte said.