Money Your Budget Fruit and vegetable prices skyrocket in wake of Cyclone Debbie
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Fruit and vegetable prices skyrocket in wake of Cyclone Debbie

Cyclone Debbie vegetable prices
The prices of tomatoes, capsicums and beans have increased by 400 per cent since Cyclone Debbie. Photo: Getty
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Months after the devastation of Cyclone Debbie, its effect on the nation’s produce is still being felt with prices of the country’s favourite fruit and vegetables skyrocketing.

Shoppers are currently being forced to pay upwards of 400 per cent the normal price for tomatoes, capsicums and beans, after 260km/h winds battered the north Queensland coast in March.

Experts feared 95 per cent of the country’s winter fruit and vegetable supply – grown predominantly in Queensland towns like Bowen – would be lost.

But while the Queensland Farmers’ Federation estimates were more upbeat at 20 per cent, over $100 million worth of crops were wiped out.

“All vegetables in the ground in the Bowen and Whitsunday region have been lost. Over $100 million worth of produce has been written off,” it stated.

And the delayed impact has hit consumers’ pockets hard with the prices of some tomatoes rising to an extraordinary $10 per kilogram.

According to Vic Farmers Markets Association Wayne Shields, the effects of Tropical Cyclone Debbie will be felt in supermarkets around the country for some time.

“[Prices] are probably at the peak at the moment and I suspect in a couple of weeks of two there will be a bit better supply, but how long before prices drop back I don’t know,” Mr Shields told Today.

How to avoid absurd vegetable prices

According to University of Adelaide global food studies director Wendy Umberger, consumers looking to save on their weekly grocery shop can avoid the higher prices by making some small adjustments to their shopping list.

Professor Umberger said there were options to get the next best thing for a fraction of the price.

“Changing the variety of food you purchase is the best option,” she said.

“Buying a different kind of tomato instead of the one that’s three times the price is a small sacrifice in quality for savings.

“There’s many options – buying seasonal vegetables instead, looking at imported foods or avoiding that vegetable all together.

“When the price goes up – like it did with bananas after Cyclone Yasi – a lot of people just stop eating it until the prices go down.”

Cyclone Yasi in 2011 ruined 75 per cent of Australia’s bananas. Consumers were forced to pay up to $15 per kg at the time.

Professor Umberger said a longer-term solution to combat rising produce prices was to grow your own – a quality and cost-effective approach.

“Another option is starting your own backyard garden or community garden – which are very popular at the moment,” she said.

“And while most people do this of food quality purposes and knowing where their food comes from, it would be handy when prices are as high as this.”

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