Lettuce growers eye flood-hit future as ‘rotten’ crops create supply shortage for KFC

Lockyer Valley lettuce growers devastated by a string of natural disasters are in desperate need of a multi-million dollar relief package to prevent them from exiting the industry, the leading horticulture group has warned.

Growcom’s acting chief executive, Richard Shannon, said some lettuce growers had lost their third consecutive harvest, risking business collapse after February floods and months of unseasonable rain.

This has driven prices for iceberg lettuce in major supermarkets up to $12 each, while other fresh vegetables are still selling at high prices after months of shortages and extreme weather conditions.

Fast food company KFC has also told customers to expect a mix of lettuce and cabbage in its products due to ongoing supply shortages caused by flooding in Queensland and NSW.

“We’re a little cautious about drawing a direct line between a natural disaster and rising prices and effects in the grocery aisle, but that’s the case this time around,” said Mr Shannon at ABC Radio Brisbane.

Calls for funding

Growcom is calling on state and federal governments to develop a “generous” relief package to support farmers, similar in scale to the relief package offered to Northwest beef producers after the 2019 floods.

The impact of south-east Queensland’s wet weather on local economies was similar to this disastrous monsoon, Mr Shannon said, which resulted in a $2 billion damage bill and killed thousands of cattle.

More than 500,000 cattle perished in Queensland floods in 2019.(Provided)

“[Lettuce growers] were unable to come in for harvest and where they did they found only a small portion of the harvest ready to market, unaffected by disease,” Mr Shannon said.

“It was a devastating time in the Lockyer Valley for lettuce growers and other growers in the state. [and] northern New South Wales.”

Fears for farmers

In the Lockyer Valley, Mr Shannon said Growcom was concerned about the effects of the closure of farmers on local communities.

“It’s a really tough time. It’s a devastating time in the Lockyer Valley.

“For those towns over there, Laidley and Gatton, they depend on the horticultural industry [for] the jobs we offer.

“They are the lifeblood of these particular communities and economies.”

A notice on KFC's website and in stores warns customers to expect cabbage, not lettuce, as shortages loom.
A notice on KFC’s website and in stores warns customers to expect cabbage in its products.(Provided)

Sunshine Coast crops such as pineapples and strawberries, and as far north as Bowen where tomatoes and peppers are grown, were also hit hard by Queensland’s unusually wet autumn.

Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the disaster aid had been made available under “long-standing federal-state disaster funding arrangements”.

“Queensland has introduced an online survey for growers to speed up the damage assessment time required to ensure this assistance is available,” Mr Furner said.

“Primary producers outside declared disaster regions can apply for an individual declaration of disaster property and also access assistance.”

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