The viability of Australia’s vegetable industry is under threat from cheap imports, according to industry body AUSVEG.
Figures show nationally the amount of land sown to vegetables decreased by 12,000 hectares last financial year, resulting in a $159 million drop in the value of the Australian vegetable industry.
In 2014-15 the amount of vegetable-growing operations dropped by 15 per cent.
Mushroom production dropped 29 per cent, while capsicum and tomato production fell 12 per cent.
AUSVEG economist Andrew Kruup said Australia could not compete with imports from countries like China, Italy and the United States.
“During the 2014-15 financial year we saw a 7 per cent increase in foreign imports of vegetable produce, and we believe that this is alarming to the domestic industry, and that it’s one of the causing factors in the reduction of the size of the industry,” Mr Kruup said.
According to Mr Kruup, the figures showed the decline in growth was not localised to one particular state, instead occurring across the board in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
United States, Italy and China are the largest source of imports for Australia, which Mr Kruup said was due to the comparatively lower cost of vegetable production in those countries.
“What Australian growers are having difficulties with is their competition against foreign imports,” he said.
“What we’re seeing is those countries that are importing into Australia have lower costs with regard to vegetable production in comparison to Australian growers.
“So what we as an industry need to do is we need to look at ways in which growers can reduce their production costs and increase their competitiveness against foreign imports.”
According to Mr Kruup, ensuring the brand of Australian vegetables remained positive would be crucial to the future trajectory of the domestic industry.
“Australian produce is some of the best in the world. We know that and what we need to do is take that brand and ensure that brand continues into the future,” he said.
“This is concerning for AUSVEG, but we have a number of measures in place to change this trend around, [such as] advertising Australian produce as the best in the world and making sure that message goes out.”