Growers hit by major cut in SPC fruit intake

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Chinese fruit on a Shepparton supermarket shelf this week.

SPC suppliers have been crushed by news that the processor will drastically cut the fruit intake this coming season.

SPC chief executive officer Neil Brimacombe told a meeting of growers the pear intake will be reduced from about 8800 tonnes last year to about 4000 tonnes this year, and peach intake will drop from about 15,000 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes.

The news could mean some growers will be completely removed from supply, forcing them to try to find fresh markets for their fruit that matures this summer.

The reduced intake will also affect job opportunities on the processing line.

Fruit Growers Victoria grower services manager Michael Crisera said the organisation was extremely disappointed with the news.

“It’s very tough for growers, particularly those who were encouraged to plant peaches,” he said.

“The harsh reality is that retailers are preferring the imported product and their own home brands.

“We need consumers to support Australian-grown products.”

Mr Crisera said he could recall when the tonnages of pears ran to about 50,000 in a season.

“Last year it was down to about 11,000 tonnes. Now it will be down to about 40 per cent of that.”

The one positive aspect of the news was that it came early — which gave growers some time to adjust.

But, Mr Crisera said, growers would like SPC to divulge the long-term plans for processing and growers.

Cobram fruit grower Matthew Cornish said they were told one of the main reasons for the cut was the cost of living pressures impacting sales.

Mr Cornish, a director of RJ Cornish, a major SPC supplier, said they had been visited by field staff and were working through the implications for their business.

“We had some indications the pear intake would be down, but were surprised the peaches would be down so far,” Mr Cornish told Country News.

He expected some growers would be forced to sell their canning varieties on the fresh fruit market, but with such tonnages being offloaded, it could create a flood which might drive prices down.

Mr Cornish appealed to consumers to buy Australian and look for SPC products, rather than imported varieties, on the supermarket shelves.

“I realise that there are cost of living pressures, but we hope consumers will think of the local products, otherwise, in a few years’ time, they may not be able to make a choice.”

SPC products in the Coles aisles in Shepparton this week.

Some growers have told Country News they fear that if processing volumes of some fruits fall too low, the lines may not be viable for SPC.

SPC chairman Hussein Rifai was not available to speak to Country News.

An unnamed SPC spokesperson said as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, the average Australian household is under pressure, and customers are purchasing alternative products imported from countries such as South Africa and China, where the cost of production is lower.

“As a result of this reduced demand, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our orders of peaches and pears for the upcoming season,” the spokesperson said.

“We expect our volumes of peaches and pears to normalise in 2026.

“Growers have been advised about changes to our sourcing of peaches and pears to give them as much notice as possible ahead of next season.

“Our sourcing of apricots, plums and apples will remain unchanged.”

State Member for Shepparton Kim O'Keeffe described the intake cut as another consequence of the cost of living crisis due to the Victorian Government's financial mismanagement.

“This is causing great distress to SPC, our local growers and local industries and I support them as we work through this challenging time,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

“The Allan Labor Government expects it to be business as usual, well it's not, and today, one of our biggest employers, an iconic company that is 100 years old, can no longer compete with imported peaches and pears from countries such as South Africa and China, where the cost of production is lower.”

The state of international trade with processed pears. Graphic from Hort Innovation.