UPDATE: THERE are many hurdles for growers to overcome in the future, writes ALEX SAMPSON
As growers around the state struggle to cope with the heat, high Aussie dollar, supermarket pressure and competition from cheap imports, grower groups are discussing survival strategies and pushing for governments to do more.
Citrus Australia chief executive Judith Damiani said increasing costs coupled with soaring temperatures and lower demand for oranges for both fresh and juice had lead to low returns.
"The general retail environment is in deflationary mode due to the GFC and increased competition between the two big retailers (Coles and Woolworths)," Ms Damiani said.
"Too many oranges are being grown in the current economic environment causing an over-supply situation."
But she said the most significant pressure was lower consumption of oranges.
"Consumers are after more convenient, easy-peel, seedless options," she said.
"There is a growing demand for mandarins and some interest in niche varieties such as limes, seedless lemons and red navels."
She said the the future of Australian citrus production lay in export-focused programs to premium growing Asian markets.
"Imports have and will always be a challenge for our industry," Ms Damiani said.
"We cannot compete with low-priced juice concentrate, but we can increase exports."
Ms Damiani said better coordination between state and federal governments and better labelling of Australian-grown processed products was essential to fighting rising imports.
She said the Government could help in several ways, in particular by reducing red tape and costs surrounding exports, removing the carbon tax and responding with greater urgency to requests to improve market access and trade for horticulture.
Winery owner John Casella from Casella Wines said romantic notions of the Australian wine industry had worn off.
"During the wine boom from the mid 1990s to early 2000, winemakers believed there was opportunity with international markets due to a romantic perception of Australian wine," he said.
"But making wine is an agricultural business at heart and even with a great product, finding a solid route to market takes time and effort.
"Wine production is also highly capital intensive, with overheads such as tractors, infrastructure and production facilities all of which get primarily used for a limited period each year."
He said some producers were seeing better returns in other agricultural endeavours, while others had seen market competition become so intense that they had had not only their route to market, but also their margins squeezed.
Mr Casella said one of the major challenges facing wineries and wine companies was competition from other lower cost-base producing countries, such as Argentina, Spain and Chile.
"The challenge is in building awareness and ensuring consumers understand the regional differences and attributes in the varietals on offer," he said.
When it came to survival, he said it all depended on business model.
"Ultimately our success or failure depends on how clever we are at marketing the regions and diversity of different wine styles," he said.
"The domestic market is very strong and our partnerships with retail have shown great success in the last 12 months in particular."
The potato industry is facing several challenges that are compounded by the high Australian dollar contributing to increasing levels of imports, especially of processed potatoes, AusVeg spokesman Hugh Gurney said.
"A large amount of the product entering Australia is coming from Europe, where growers receive a number of incentives from government to allow them to cheaply produce potato products," he said.
"Australian growers on the other hand are facing rising costs of inputs including fertilisers, seed, transportation and electricity and these contribute to make it hard for these growers to compete with cheaply produced imports."
He said Australian growers were consistently innovating their growing practices and becoming increasingly efficient, but they needed help from the Australian Government.
He said legislative changes such as anti-dumping laws and improved Country of Origin Labelling would assist the Australian industry in competing against cheap overseas imports.
"The potatoes grown in Australia are grown to some of the highest standards of quality and safety in the world and it is time for labelling laws to be improved so that consumers can easily choose this high quality local produce," Mr Gurney said.
Australian Olive Association chief executive Lisa Rowntree said the drought in Europe could be the reprieve the Australian olive oil industry needed to catch its breath.
"The European drought will see Australian producers paid the best price in five years and I think just one good year will give operators the strength to push on," she said.
"The drought has really affected olive production in Spain, where about 80 per cent of the crop had failed."
This will have a follow-on affect for the 2014 crop, meaning Australia might get two to three years relief out of this, Ms Rowntree said.
Already, prices are starting to look up. "Generally producers can get between $2 and $5 a litre for olive oil, and we got as low as $2.38 in June-July last year," Ms Rowntree said.
"This year we're already fielding calls from people reporting that they're getting $4.10-$4.20, so by July-August we could see prices much better than that."
As prices rise, olive groves are attracting investors.
"We're seeing a lot of cashed-up Chinese investment," she said.
"That said, the banks don't have a lot of confidence in the industry at the moment."
She said the number of growers hadn't increased, but the groves had changed hands.
"People assumed it was going to be a very lucrative cash cow, but now groves are being sold for a fraction of what they cost to establish," she said.
"The new owners will start to see profits because they're not carrying that initial debt."
As the industry strengthens, international imports still dominate the market share, but have dropped from 80 per cent to about 65 per cent over the past few years.
"What would really help would be to have local labelling legislation," Ms Rowntree said.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig said the Gillard Government was taking action to improve the clarity of food labels for consumers while supporting suppliers and Australian industry.
"The Government announced in the 2012 Budget that $2.865 million would be provided over two years to support and complement industry efforts to restructure and promote Australian wine more effectively,'' she said.
"The Gillard Government takes biosecurity seriously and has a world-class science-based system.
"There is legislation before the parliament that, if passed, would strengthen the administration of the biosecurity system for the future.''
The spokeswoman said the government was taking action on the misrepresentation of olive oil products on Australian supermarket shelves.
"The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is leading compliance and enforcement activities to make sure that what is claimed on the label is what is in the bottle,'' she said.
"In labelling their olive oil products, food businesses should be careful that they comply with the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The Act prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct, and false or misleading representations about the standard, quality, value, grade or composition of goods. Anybody who suspects a product is in breach of this Act should contact the ACCC.''