LOCAL citrus growers have demanded their peak industry body step up to the plate after supermarket giant Woolworths signed a deal to secure the futures of hundreds of apple, pear, peach and apricot producers.
Woolworths last month signed a $7 million deal with embattled manufacturer SPC Ardmona under which the supermarket will source all fruit for its private label canned goods from Australian growers, instead of overseas.
While the deal is a coup for struggling fruit growers, local citrus producers have questioned why the same agreement cannot be made for juice and fresh citrus.
The head of Riverina Citrus Growers Inc, Bart Brighenti, has called for the big supermarkets to offer a guarantee they will source citrus juice concentrate from Australian growers and not use cheap imported product.
“If we had a national body that actually did its job and pushed like SPC have done, then we’d be in a much better position,” Mr Brighenti said.
“I don’t see why we can’t do something like SPC has done.”
However, there could be hope on the horizon for local growers with peak industry body Citrus Australia to announce a deal of its own.
Citrus Australia CEO Judith Damiani said she was currently in talks with not only Woolworths but also Coles and Aldi to establish a citrus category plan with the supermarkets, which would assure some security to Australian growers.
Mrs Damiani said it was too early to confirm the plans but expected an announcement sometime in the near future.
“We are working to promote Australian fruit in juice and we do have a plan in place with Woolworths at the moment,” Mrs Damiani said. “We are gearing up to do something big but it’s too early to say at the moment.”
In the meantime, Mr Brighenti hoped to see some commitment towards citrus growers from the new Liberal government.
“We have yet to hear anything out of the new government that would be inspiring for citrus growers,” he said.
“I’d like for them to come out and say what they’re actually going to do for this industry.”
Mr Brighenti said the most prominent issues that needed to be addressed – other than anti-dumping laws – were labelling regulations and free trade agreements.
“SPC is investigating heavily into anti-dumping and safeguard measures for their industry,” he said. “We should have the exact same thing.”