THE REGION’S grape growers are hurtling head-long into a crisis the likes of which has never been seen.
It comes amid reports dozens of growers are in the hands of the banks and new figures from Wine Grape Growers Australia (WGGA) revealing tonnages have declined despite an expansion in hectares of grapes.
Adding salt to the wound, real estate agents have confirmed local vineyards are now selling for less than citrus farms.
CEO of the Wine Grapes Marketing Board, Brian Simpson, said growers are in debt negotiations with financial institutions because they were getting similar prices to what they were getting in the 1970s despite the increased cost of production.
“It’s likely there are at least a dozen local growers in the hands of the banks but I only know two for sure,” Mr Simpson said.
“The banks won’t tell us concrete numbers but we’re aware of very concerning levels.”
David Rossetto is a wine grape grower from Yenda who can’t see a way out for growers who have been battling with seven years of selling their crops below cost price.
“Most growers I know have been using reserve cash to keep their farms going and you’re lucky if you can feed yourself,” Mr Rossetto said.
“I’m off the farm 80 per cent of the time doing other work because it puts food on my table.
“Irrespective of capital to fix things and replant, there’s not enough return for the crop to look after itself.
“It’s definitely a crisis when you can’t see how it’s ever going to turn around.”
Local real estate agent Alister Watt from Rawlinson & Brown said vineyards were selling for below the cost of establishing them.
“You speak to a lot of horticultural blokes and they’ll all sell at a price,” Mr Watt said.
“But inquiries for vineyards have been pretty quiet and they’re certainly at the cheaper end of the market.
“It is a fact of life that there’s just not the sale of vineyards there’s historically been because the return is so low that there’s not many buyers.”
When asked how the region’s tonnage of grapes had declined when the hectares had increased by nearly ten per cent, WGGA Executive Director Lawrie Stanford speculated growers were increasing the plantations in response to caps imposed by wineries.
“Riverina growers may have responded to the need to maintain revenue by increasing plantings where winemakers are putting caps on the tonnages that can be taken off by hectare,” Mr Stanford said.