- François-Xavier Branthôme
…as processors look to restock after COVID panic-buying
In northern Victoria and southern New South Wales, canning-tomato growers are starting to harvest what seems to be a bumper crop. Canning tomatoes are in higher demand after panic buying during the COVID-19 pandemic stripped supermarket shelves.
In Victoria's Goulburn Valley, SPC is ramping up production this year, after COVID-19 lockdowns inspired more people to cook at home. SPC Ardmona chief executive Robert Giles said major processors were eager to restock after an unusual year. "We are literally down to the last of it right now and looking forward to this early-season product to come in," Mr Giles said. "We'll be up nearly 15,000 tonnes worth of tomatoes this year, so a really big increase on our previous year's crop. […] With everybody home cooking, it's one of those categories that's really taken off. […] The international supply of tomatoes has been a bit patchy, so … people turning back to Australian product puts us in a really good position for 2021."
Bruce Weekes has begun harvesting his 120-hectare tomato crop at Rochester in northern Victoria. He is one of about six growers who supply SPC and after 20 years of stable prices, this year is starting off on a brighter note. "There's been an increase in price, and the contracts have been increased so if we can get the tomatoes off, it should be a good season," Mr. Weekes said. "It's really been just about below the cost of production really, so we did need an increase in the price to make us sustainable."
Mr. Weekes said COVID-19 had finally put the issue of food security front of mind in Australia. "If you start importing everything, you get something like COVID or a crisis, and you run into strife."
Homegrown organic to compete with imports
Three thousand tonnes of organic tomatoes will be processed into diced and paste from Lake Boga, with the hope that the product will become a strong competitor against imported markets. The fruit will be processed at Australia's biggest tomato-processing company, Kagome, in Echuca. "The opportunity of organic presented because we knew there was imported organic, so we could at least take a share of the imported product," Mr Furphy said.
"All things going well, we will continue to expand that."
Some complementary data
Annual (Jan-Dec) figures of Australian imports of tomato products, in quantities
Annual (Jan-Dec) figures of Australian expenditure for imports of tomato products, by supplying countries
Annual (Jan-Dec) figures of Australian expenditure for imports of tomato products, by sectors