A RISING tide of imports could spell the end for a raft of local farming industries if the government doesn't take urgent steps to protect our farmers, local growers claim.
New figures revealing the country's processed fruit and vegetable imports have soared by nearly $120 million over the past two years have prompted calls for the government to take action before it's too late.
Coleambally prune grower John Ward said the dollar and all the regulations growers were subjected to made it impossible to be competitive with imported produce.
"The dollar is driving growers to bankruptcy," he said. "It's ludicrous to think we can compete when we have to meet wage regulations, workCover requirements and it's driving people to the point of no return."
Mr Ward said it was also going to create problems in the future as growers would be out of production when the dollar droped and import costs increased so there would not be a domestic market to fulfil the demand.
Owner of Tabbita's Australian Frozen Foods Tony Parle said other countries dumping their excess produce into Australia's domestic market was crippling the local industry.
“To be competitive we need an underlying business in a strong domestic market to support us on the overseas market,” Mr Parle said.
“In the US, they have laws to protect the farmers against dumping. If someone is accused of dumping, the onus of truth is on them to prove they aren’t – in Australia the onus of truth is on the person who accuses them and it costs a lot of money to prove that.”
Mr Parle said contractual power held by the big two supermarkets and their practice of individually auditing suppliers also added to the problem.
He said if the government amended the dumping laws and made the supermarkets do the same audit for all suppliers then Australian vegetable growers would have more of a chance.
“Woolworths and Coles have to be brought into line,” he said.
NSW Farmers’ Association vice-president Peter Darley said one farmer a week in the state was already packing it in and warned if importation laws weren’t tightened, there could be no horticulture left in five years.