Dragon fruit imports killing NT farmers leading to calls for stricter country of origin labelling – ABC Rural

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A dragon fruit farmer in the Northern Territory says imports from Vietnam have seen prices drop 40 per cent, making his farm unviable.

The imported fruit first hit Australian shelves in September last year and since then the Federal Government has allowed imports of Indonesian dragon fruit.

Darwin farmer Vuong Nguien said the increased competition might force him to exit the industry.

“[In] the first year of imports prices dropped 30 per cent and this year it’s a minimum 40 per cent drop. So just imagine what next year will be like,” he said.

“We used to think we would look after the farm for our three kids [to take over] when they grow up, but definitely not now. We might not even be here in the next two years.”

Mr Nguien and his wife are some of the largest dragon fruit farmers in the country with more than 3,000 trees, and that footprint was set to expand this year.

However those plans have been put on hold.

“For us we cannot compete with imported fruit because you compare 10 cents a kilogram [cost of production] to $5-10 a kilogram. We can’t compete with that,” Mr Nguien said.

“We have high costs of production, we have to be certified and regulated [which adds costs], and then the fruit coming in from Vietnam is mainly from backyard growers.

“I have had another [Australian] grower say to me it might be his last year [in the industry]. It really will be a miracle if we can stand strong for another three to five years.”

Trade is a two-way street

When the imports were first announced the Federal Government outlined that they would be counter-seasonal.

For Mr Nguien, whose focus has been on growing fruit outside of the normal season, that was the worst thing about the imports.

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“That’s where we try and get most of our income from — the counter-seasonal fruit,” he said.

“Being off-season costs us a lot of money already, we can barely survive. But now there there is not much of a future ahead.”

In a written statement to ABC Rural, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said trade was a two-way street.

“Australia is a nation of 25 million people but produces enough food for around 75 million people, so our farmers rely on trade,” he said.

Country of origin food labelling

Mr Nguien has called for stricter country of origin food labelling laws on fresh produce, which he said would allow the consumer to choose local dragon fruit over imported product.

Earlier this year, new country of origin food labelling laws came into effect which required unpackaged food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, to have a label displayed close to the product.

However, Mr Nguien argued this was not clear for the consumer and said he would like to see mandatory labelling on individual fruit.

“We have seen imported fruit in our own farm’s boxes, so consumers might think they are buying local but they are not. How can this happen?

“We went to a few places and saw this. We know our fruit, we know what it looks like, and this wasn’t fruit from our farm.

“So the labelling has to be fixed, we have to help the consumer, they deserve to know where the fruit comes from and then they can make the decision.”

Minister Littleproud said he believed the Government had already acted in this space.

“The Federal Government has delivered country of origin labelling that empowers Australian consumers to support our farmers at the checkout,” he said.

“The ACCC has been given extra resources and powers to police this initiative.”



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