Citrus growers say that fresh Australian orange juice may not be widely available in the future because of low prices paid to growers.
The total amount of land dedicated to growing one of the main juicing varieties of oranges, the Valencia, has already dropped by 30 per cent in the past two decades.
Now the industry says that low supermarket prices make it even less attractive to keep growing the fruit.
Better returns in fresh fruit
Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock said low retail prices did not allow juicing companies to pay growers a fair amount.
“The juice growing industry is under immense pressure and Australian consumers may not have access to fresh Australian orange juice in as little as five years,” Mr Hancock said.
“We hold grave concerns that pressure placed by major retailers on processors of juice fruit is driving returns down and growers out of the industry.”
The other incentive for citrus growers is that they can get two to three times the returns on their trees if they grow fresh fruit for eating, like mandarins and navel oranges.
Frosts and heatwaves not helping
Alongside low prices, recent weather challenges are also affecting the size of the overall crop.
Mr Hancock said there could be shortages this year, after frosts in spring last year and heatwaves over the Christmas and new year period damaged fruit, particularly in NSW’s Riverina area.
The overall crop could be down by as much as 45 per cent.
High irrigation water costs are also leading to growers being reluctant or unable to put a full watering onto their orchards.
“We implore our major retailers to recognise the impact seasonal conditions are having on our growers and to lift their prices accordingly,” he said.
Long-life juice likely replacement
If Australian fresh juice disappears from supermarket shelves, it will not likely be replaced by fresh imports due to the relatively short shelf life of the product.
But there could be a growth in juice coming to Australia from places like Brazil, where it is frozen after being processed and then thawed and bottled locally.
There could also be a growth in imported non-refrigerated juice products, which have a longer shelf life.
“We’d expect that trend to continue,” Mr Hancock said.
Wider variety of drinks also a challenge
Citrus growers also say that a boom in the range of drinks available has increased competition.
“Water is a new phenomenon in terms of bottled sales, there’s kombucha and more energy and sports drink. They all compete,” Mr Hancock said.
“But we think that a fresh orange juice is worth the money and has a lot of health benefits.”
Mr Hancock said he was not too concerned about consumer attitudes towards things like high sugar levels affecting demand.
“Fresh Australian juice doesn’t have sugars added, so there’s no issues there,” he said.
“I think it’s seen as a healthy way to get kids to have a fruit serving. Drunk at the recommended rate, it’s a great alternative.”
‘Working with suppliers’
Citrus Australia said it had written to the major retailers and asked to meet about the pricing issue.
Coles said in a statement that many of its suppliers had been directly affected by weather conditions such as drought, floods and bushfires.
“We’re working with many of our suppliers on the best ways in which we can support them,” the statement said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Woolworths said the supermarket was aware conditions had been challenging for some orange growers due to the drought and recent flooding.
“We are working with our suppliers to understand what impact this might have and how we can help ensure our customers continue to have access to quality juices at affordable prices,” the statement said.