Veggie price hikes likely to follow floods, growers say
Last summer it was drought. Now floods have ravaged crops in Pukekohe, and growers warn vegetable price hikes are the likely result.
Shon Fong said Friday's deluge was the worst rain he had seen before. His family business, AH Gorn & Sons, had been based in the area since the 1950s.
"It was continuous for 24 hours and the ground just couldn't take it," Fong said.
His fields had lines gouged out of the soil by flood waters. Fong said onions, which had been harvested and left in the open to dry, were left strewn across the paddocks and an adjoining road.
"We've lost about 20 percent to 30 percent of our harvest."
He said after last year's drought it was hard to take.
In May last year, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) declared the drought a "medium-scale adverse event" in South Auckland and the Waikato and announced a support package for affected farmers and growers.
The unusually dry conditions had made it challenging for those in the industry, with falling yields and increased overheads to pay for irrigation.
"We've gone from one extreme to the other," Fong said.
South Auckland's horticulture industry is centred on the Pukekohe Hub, 4359 hectares of some of New Zealand's most fertile and productive land.
According to Auckland Council's 2019 Climate Action Framework it generates $327 million a year, the equivalent of 26 percent of New Zealand's total domestic value for vegetable production.
Fong said he was convinced the latest flood damage in Pukekohe would lead to an increase in the price of all green vegetables, potatoes and onions.
"A lot of them have been underwater and they won't be able to harvest them."
He said he was now just hoping for some respite from the wet weather.
"We don't know, but we've got our fingers crossed."
Jivan Produce director Bharat Jivan had been outspoken about the ongoing effects of climate change on the industry.
The Pukekohe-based family business had been operating in the area for 60 years and grows potatoes, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and pumpkins.
"Last year we had a drought and this year we're getting endless rain," he said. "We are going to have to deal with climate change - there's no doubt about that."
His own business had not been as affected by the flooding as other market gardeners in the Pukekohe area.
"Some growers had the floodwater go right through their crops."
But Jivan said Pukekohe's market gardeners would adapt, despite the latest setback.
However, he said an increase in vegetable prices after last week's rain and flooding was a very real possibility.
MPI and Horticulture NZ were carrying out an assessment of the damage caused by Friday night's flooding in Pukekohe.
MPI director of rural communities and farming support Nick Story said MPI was monitoring the situation closely.
"At this stage, we've received no requests from the primary sector for recovery assistance but will continue to assess conditions on-the-ground alongside industry groups."
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air