Growers facing 'Waterloo’

VINTAGE has only just begun but already the Wine Grapes Marketing Board has warned low yields and lower prices could push more growers to breaking point.

Growers were relying on this year's crush to boost profits and keep them in business but wineries battling against a tough export market and a structural oversupply have dropped prices by an average of $20-$30 per tonne since last year.

With yields slashed to between two and seven tonnes per acre other regions average 10-12 tonnes WGMB CEO Brian Simpson said this year would see more growers forced off their land.

"In other regions the prices have lifted. In the Riverland growers are getting an average of $285 per tonne for chardonnay, here they're getting $200 per tonne," Mr Simpson said.

"Growers are going to find it very difficult unless they see an increase in red grape prices but not everyone has red varieties on their property."

Mr Simpson said it was unknown why yields were so drastically reduced, though sunburn, last year's floods and disease had all played a part.

"Growers have been unable to spend a lot on inputs such as fertiliser they're careful of overspending on grapes because why put the money in if you can't sell them?" he said.

"We have a lot of farmers flat out trying to get off-farm work this is the worst I've seen it in 12 years."

Last year, a number of growers were forced out of the industry.

Mr Simpson said there was nothing to stop wineries reviewing their prices after the intake and he has urged growers to make contact with their wineries and stress how close they were to breaking point.

"This is make or break for many growers," he said.

"Once wineries see that the fruit just isn't there, there is the potential for some change."

De Bortoli Wines managing director Darren De Bortoli said it was "too early to comment" on what this vintage would hold.

"Yes we're mindful of the situation growers are in, but we're also mindful of the market conditions," Mr De Bortoli said.

"If we got some reprieve on the dollar that would be a big plus."

Westend Estate Wines started harvesting on Tuesday and managing director Bill Calabria said he felt for the growers.

"I just hope we don't get rain," Mr Calabria said.

"I really feel for the growers, we really do need a good year because the crops are down."

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