NZ vege growers may gain from Aussie rain

Shoppers could be paying more for vegetables such as tomatoes and courgettes in a few months thanks to the Queensland floods squeezing supplies and pushing up prices.

But the floods could also be an opportunity for our exporters, who stand to earn more filling any supply shortages across the ditch.

In winter 2011 tomato prices in New Zealand reached a record price of $13.25 a kilogram, after floods in late 2010 and earlier that year pinched off usual winter supplies from Australia.

Horticulture NZ chief executive Peter Silcock said the extent of the damage to crops - and therefore of any shortage - of this year's floods was still unknown.

Imported veges from Australia such as tomatoes, capsicums and courgettes typically arrived in New Zealand in April and May.

"At this stage we would anticipate [the floods] are possibly going to have an impact on that. They may not come here."

In that case New Zealand would have to rely on local supply, "and that will probably mean we're going to be a little bit short. But we'll see what happens, it's a long way to go."

Growers in Queensland might still be able to ready crops for export in late winter, he said, limiting the impact to early winter.

New Zealand tomato exporters boosted sales to Australia by 50 per cent to $12 million after the floods in 2011.

Silcock said it was hard to predict whether exporters would benefit this year, but any wins were unlikely to be huge.

Other states in Australia unaffected by floods could fill the supply gap there, and if there was a major opportunity New Zealand was unlikely to have the supply ready to go, he said.

"You really feel for the people in Lockyer [Valley] and Bundaberg [in Queensland] who've been hit quite a bit over a number of years."

Frank Van Rijen, a Waikato tomato grower and vice-chairman of TomatoesNZ, said it was too early to pinpoint the impact on tomato supplies here. "It's only eight to 10 weeks from planting to production so they'll still be able to make the winter window."

But the floods could be a moot point, he said.

He understood Australian growers could still not export here, following the ban in late 2011 in Australia of the pesticide dimethoate, used to treat tomatoes for fruit fly and required in order to bring tomatoes into New Zealand, because of potential dietary risks.

Australia was seeking approval for other fruit fly treatments but nothing had been finalised.

He typically exported less than 10 per cent of his tomatoes, mainly to Australia, in March and April. "We did get good prices in 2011, that was largely to do with the floods."

TomatoesNZ said in a newsletter in December there was a "fairly high chance" Australia would have measures in place to resume exports by winter.