As Cyclone Debbie barrels across the north Queensland coast, Australia’s winter fruit supply is in danger of being wiped out.
The storm, which on Tuesday night was downgraded to category two, is expected to tear through large parts of the coast, from Ayr to St Lawrence, with possible wind speeds of up to 275km/h on Wednesday.
And if Debbie’s destruction is anything like Cyclone Larry in 2006, shoppers could be forced to fork out more than eight times the normal price for their favourite tropical fruits, experts say.
“Prices skyrocketed at that time, and if the result is anything like that, it could happen again,” Curtin University horticulture expert Dr Zora Singh told The New Daily.
He said the region is a major pocket for banana, tomato, capsicum and mango growers in Australia, with 95 per cent of Australia’s supply coming from north Queensland.
“There would be a major short-term loss if 95 per cent of Queensland’s winter supply is gone,” Dr Singh said.
“There is a good chance that a loss of that magnitude would pump the prices up significantly, the price could skyrocket, especially for bananas.”
Cavendish bananas sell on average for $3 per kilogram in major supermarket chains, but that price could surge to up to $25 per kilogram if Cyclone Debbie ends up anything like Larry, Dr Singh said.
That storm wiped out up to 90 per cent of the country’s banana crop causing prices to rise by almost 500 per cent.
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.
If crops are destroyed, consumers can expect prices to spike at the end of May or the beginning of June.
And that damage could mean long-lasting pain for consumers, with premium crops requiring a year to produce.
“Prices for bananas, mangoes, tomatoes and other fruit will see long-term effects if it ruins the one-year cycle,” Dr Singh said.
He said we do have some plantations in Western Australia and New South Wales, but they are not nearly the size or quality of those in Queensland.
Certain lesser-quality tomato crops could be produced in less than three months to cover the gap, but “if we are talking premium crops, they could be without produce for over a year”.
The Bowen Gumlu Growers Association – which produces tomatoes, capsicum, watermelon and eggplant among others – could lose up to 20 per cent of its crops if the storm hits hard enough.
“Roughly between 15 and 20 per cent of planting is in the ground. That crop will be picked at the end of May. If we get a lot of rain after this that’s going to provide a lot of problems,” the company’s industry development officer Cherry Emerick told The Daily Mail.
“If we can’t pick it’s a roll-on effect. We have a lot of backpackers, a lot of locals … It would be pretty catastrophic.”