THE worst may be yet to come for struggling fruit growers.
This is the opinion of John Lawrenson, the president of Apple and Pears Australia, who said he was being called daily by growers unable to turn a profit on the current low prices.
Many fear this year will be their last in business.
Rather than blaming the supermarket giants for forcing prices down to win a bigger share of every shopping dollar spent, Mr Lawrenson called on Australian consumers to be prepared to pay more for their fresh fruit.
Ironically, Mr Lawrenson said two years of good rain across Australia, as well as consumers pulling back on fresh-food expenditure in favour of cheaper and imported packaged food, were as much to blame as Coles's fierce 50 per cent fruit discounting campaign that began in January.
"We have been caught in the crossfire of the two supermarkets discounting, at the same time as there has been an oversupply of product because of the good season," Mr Lawrenson said.
"But I also think Australian consumers are prepared to pay a fair price for fresh fruit grown locally, and want to see apple and pear growers able to stay in the business, so I would question whether (the supermarkets) really need to be pushing prices as low and as hard as they are."
One consumer delighted at the lower prices yesterday was Rebekah Revesz, from Christmas Island, where banana prices can go as high as $20 a kilogram.
Shopping yesterday for fruit in the IGA supermarket in Hilton in Perth's south, she said banana prices had plummeted recently.
"But compared to where I live, obviously there's a massive difference in paying $20/kg, while here we pay $2.99/kg," she said.
Ms Revesz said even when prices were at their peak, she never stopped eating a banana a day.
The 30 per cent crash in fresh fruit prices during the past three months that has helped keep the national inflation rate low comes as no surprise to chairman of Summerfruits Australia, Ian McAlister, but he is not rushing to blame the discount wars being waged by Coles and Woolworths for the price crash, despite fearing the industry was in a "war of attrition".
A nectarine and peach grower from Lake Boga in Victoria's north, Mr McAlister said the 2011-12 seasons for peaches, apricots and nectarines had been marked by an abundance of product and depressed consumer demand.
Despite a terrific growing season and good crops, he said poor demand over a wet summer, coupled with a gross oversupply, had been disastrous for growers.
"The end of the season can't come quickly enough; a season that started out with so much enthusiasm soon became bogged down with an oversupply situation, combined with very poor demand," Mr McAlister recently told growers.
He blamed this year's oversupply on good rain and irrigation availability, as well as the expansion of nectarine, peach and apricot orchards at the urging of the supermarket chains looking to grab a larger market share.
Ausveg chief executive Richard Mulcahy estimates the drop in fresh fruit and vegetable prices of 30 per cent has put one-quarter of vegetable growers in the red.
"Consumers are quite happy demanding the best-quality vegetables and produce they can, but then do not appear prepared to pay for that improved quality or to support the farmers who are growing their food," Mr Mulcahy said.
Read more on The Australian.