Heavy rain and flooding cause vegetable shortages, rocketing prices

The wet weather has meant extensive damage to crops and higher vege prices for customers.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

The wet weather has meant extensive damage to crops and higher vege prices for customers.

Fresh vegetables are in short supply after New Zealand was battered by three storms in a matter of weeks.

Flooding throughout the country during March and April has seen root rot wipe out entire crops, sending grocery prices skyrocketing.

Foodstuffs spokeswoman Antoinette Laird said the supply of green vegetables to supermarkets nationwide had been affected. 

Signs in New World supermarkets advise customers of the effects of the recent rain.

Signs in New World supermarkets advise customers of the effects of the recent rain.

Beans, broccoli, salads, silverbeet, lettuce and spinach were all in particularly short supply, which meant customers might notice the retail price of these vegetables was higher than usual, she said.

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"A good alternative option is cabbage, which is generally still in plentiful supply and affordable," said Laird. 

"The supply of these vegetables should gradually return to normal over the coming weeks, as more stock becomes available."

A Countdown spokesman said the supermarket chain was facing challenges across a "variety of fruits and veges due to the weather" and overall there was less supply around.

Spinach in particular was in "pretty short supply due to the very wet weather", he said.

Market gardeners Joe and Fay Gock. They expect they won't have anything to harvest in the coming months after rain has ...

Market gardeners Joe and Fay Gock. They expect they won't have anything to harvest in the coming months after rain has rotted their crops.

The rain has exceeded record amounts in several places in the North Island.

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The Tasman Tempest dumped more rain in some places in six days than is usually expected for the entire month of March.

It was followed closely by the remnants of Cyclone Debbie and ex-cyclone Cook, both of which brought heavy dumps of rain to many regions.

Auckland market gardener Fay Gock said she and her husband Joe had been growing in Mangere for more than 50 years and conditions had never been this bad.

She expected their entire crop of cauliflower, which was due for harvest this month, would be ruined.

The kumara they had planted was probably rotten too but they wouldn't know until they took those out of the ground, she said.

The prices for onions and potatoes would also skyrocket in coming months as those crops would have been wiped out too.

"For me, it's going to be a bad year. This is the first year that we have noticed such damage."

Insurance wouldn't cover the Gocks' losses and they would probably be left out of pocket by huge amounts, she said.

Wet weather had also meant an increase in vermin eating what was left of the crops.

"We fight the weather and we fight the vermin. We are in a war zone."

Kiran Hari, the chairman of the leafy crop advisory group for the growers' association Vegetables New Zealand, said the "true impact" of the storms wouldn't be known for the next 10 days.

Farmers were likely to experience disease, quality issues and crop loss due to the flooding, he said.

Disease could follow if there was warm, damp weather over the next few days, and a cold period could cause crops to freeze.

However, those issues should be cushioned by the current supply, he said.

"Things could be back to normal in a month . . . but in terms of produce and price, there's going to be a period of a lot selling for a reasonable price, followed by a period of pain."

Hari said his insurance only covers damages to crops in cool storage.

The advisory group's former chairman Stuart Davis said farmers were not typically insured against flood damage - "that's farming".

Supplies would be impacted probably until August, but it would be about a month until consumers really felt the pinch from the crops lost in the flood, Davis said.

"Autumn is a time when [growers] need to plant the fastest to maintain supply, so with crops that are close to harvest now, there will be high losses [from the flood], and there will also be a lot of planting that's been disrupted."

Cyclone Debbie had the same effect in Australia, with winter crops battered there.

Rural insurance company FMG has received 226 claims for ex Cyclone Debbie worth an estimated $2.47 million. 

Chief executive Conrad Wilkshire said the company would have a better understanding of claims for ex Cyclone Cook in about a week. 

Most claims were for flood damage to buildings and contents, but there were also claims for wind damage to farm buildings and flooding to some commercial buildings, Wilkshire said.

 - Stuff

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