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Extreme weather pushes up food prices -

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Extreme weather pushes up food prices

The World Today - Tuesday, 24 February , 2009 12:34:00

Reporter: Simon Santow

ELEANOR HALL: Fire, floods and extreme heat are proving a costly combination for farmers and for
fruit and vegetable consumers across eastern Australia.

Prices have risen and some staples are in short supply as growers in Victoria and North Queensland
write off some crops entirely.

Simon Santow reports that the extreme weather has cost farmers millions of dollars in destroyed or
stranded crops.

SIMON SANTOW: Whether it's lettuce or zucchini, nectarines or bananas, chances are you're paying
more for your fruit and vegetables than you're used to.

Grocery prices are on the rise in much of eastern Australia, with produce either unavailable or in
short supply.

PETER COCHRANE: Practically every crop that was directly sown incurred quite a bit of damage. I'd
estimate in our area it's in the millions. I'm just talking my direct neighbours, the losses. But
we wear that, it's part of farming.

SIMON SANTOW: Peter Cochrane grows spring onions, beetroot and other small crop vegetables, near
Cranbourne, south-east of Melbourne.

He's also the president of the Horticulture Group within the Victorian Farmers Federation.

PETER COCHRANE: The heat, for us, has done more damage than the fires because a lot of our growing
areas, thankfully, were nowhere near the fires.

SIMON SANTOW: When you talk about heat, can you describe the impact and what, on a practical level,
what it's done to some of these crops on the ground.

PETER COCHRANE: The crops were growing already, near harvest, especially the leafy type vegetables,
your spinaches and your lettuces and your radishes and that. Those type of products, all their
leaves have been burnt or totally burnt off. That's probably why there's a bit of a shortage in the
markets at the moment.

What's also happened with the heat, the heat we can handle to a degree but with the wind, and
especially the type of wind we had on the Saturday, it has destroyed a lot of crops that were just
coming through the ground.

So probably in eight, 10, 12 weeks, even 20 weeks time, there'll be shortages of products that were
direct sown, in the market place.

SIMON SANTOW: What sort of products?

PETER COCHRANE: Well, carrots, parsnips. We lost a number of patches of radish, spring onions,
practically every crop that was directly sown, like seed, has incurred quite a bit of damage.

SIMON SANTOW: Stone fruit has also been badly affected by the heat.

IAN MCALISTER: We had a fortnight of 41 to 48 degree temperatures, which has severely impacted the
quality - not the quality but actually burnt some of the later varieties of the stone fruit that we
are currently harvesting.

Grower Ian McAlister says farmers have lost a lot of money.

IAN MCALISTER: You end up with smaller fruit but now the temperatures are back to normal, the fruit
seems to have burst into life again and is actually splitting their skins at the tops. Not only
have we got burnt fruit, we've actually got split fruit.

SIMON SANTOW: Which makes it difficult to sell?

IAN MCALISTER: It's unsellable, I mean, the supermarkets - it won't meet the specs
(specifications).

SIMON SANTOW: And that must be frustrating, given the last few weeks.

IAN MCALISTER: Well, it's very frustrating but it's hard to get a real handle on how much damage
there is because farmers just take it in their stead, it's no different to bird damage or rain
damage or any other damage that we sustained.

SIMON SANTOW: Some Victorian apple and pear growers have suffered in the fires.

But for every victim, there's a farmer who got lucky, such as Ian Armour from Warragul, east of
Melbourne.

IAN ARMOUR: We had a fire start to the north-west side of one of our properties, presumably
starting from the Bunyip fire which by the time it got through Durham west in the final outcome it
burnt, I suppose, about 300 acres of pasture, including about 40 acres of house and a couple of
kilometres of fences. But mostly due to the wind change, our main orchard property escaped with
just a couple of dozen singed apple trees on the perimeter.

SIMON SANTOW: While the fires burned down south, floodwaters were taking a toll in Far North
Queensland.

MARK NUCIFORA: The weather up here's been playing havoc, not only with our farm operations and loss
of income but obviously with the road closure for up to, I believe it was about 12 to 14 days. We
couldn't get our product out of the farm and down to market, so it created a lot of stress.

SIMON SANTOW: Mark Nucifora grows bananas just south of Innisfail, an area only just recovering
from the devastation of cyclone Larry.

MARK NUCIFORA: We lost anywhere up to 30 or 40 per cent of our bunch trees and we probably lost
around another five to 10 per cent of other trees around the farm. So, you know, 30 to 40 per cent
over the next three months in terms of loss of production. And then with some stool roll-out, that
area there where we've lost stool, we'll have loss of production there. Until we replant that
paddock, so that could be up to three or four, five years in some of those areas.

ELEANOR HALL: North Queensland banana grower Mark Nucifora ending that report from Simon Santow.