Sydney’s primary producers: a dwindling crop

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Sydney’s primary producers: a dwindling crop

Fresh produce at the Sydney Markets

Fresh produce at the Sydney Markets

By Daniella Scotti

Fresh produce at the Sydney Markets

By Daniella Scotti

By Daniella Scotti

Fresh produce at the Sydney Markets

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The pool of local farmers in the Sydney basin is at an all-time low.

It now represents just five per cent of all agricultural operations in NSW, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

With fresh fruit and vegetables easily obtainable from interstate growers, the future of the once-booming farming region – previously valued at over one billion dollars – looks bleak.

In 2016, 20 per cent of the food consumed in Sydney was locally produced. However, this figure is expected to plummet to six per cent by 2031.

The Sydney Basin, or Greater Sydney Region, comprises agricultural land bounded by Wollondilly in the East, the Blue Mountains in the west and Gosford in the north.


Colin Nicholson has given up farming (Image/Daniella Scotti)

Locals, like fourth-generation farmer and stone fruit orchardist Colin Nicholson, say they’re consumed by pressures out of their control.

Mr Nicholson turned his back on the farm, this year.

“I just had enough,” he said.

Lack of water, hail storms, fruit bats and price setting from supermarket giants, were just some of the reasons he gave for closing the doors on a family business that began in 1897.

Mr Nicholson’s farm, located in Sydney’s north-western suburb of Forest Glen, had been carting tonnes of fresh stone fruit to Sydney’s Flemington markets for over 42 years.

Flemington Markets, Sydney (Image/Daniella Scotti)

The last five years have seen a steady decline in profitability,” he said.

“No-one in horticulture gets enough for their produce to make a living – that’s the main issue.”

He blames “the increased fruit from Victoria” and supermarket prices.

“The supermarkets just seem to set a price and that’s the price they are going to pay. Even if the fruit is a little bit scarce, they still won’t pay.

“There is not a lot of that high demand price that we used to get.”

Mr Nicholson believes that supermarkets are quite happy to import produce from Chile if that means they are paying a lower price.

“This year was probably the toughest marketing year. There was pretty much a complaint about the fruit every day.”

The markets at Flemington are located 15 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD and are the domain for fresh produce.

Once dominated by local trucks, it is now full of semi-trailers, carrying tonnes of produce from as far as Queensland’s Bowen or Victoria’s Werribee.

4am at Flemington Markets, Sydney (Image/Daniella Scotti)

Market agent and former XL Fruit Wholesaler Erasmo Roppolo, is concerned about the loss of experienced local farmers.

“What is happening in the fruit and vegetable industry, especially over the last 30 years, is [that] the expertise is going out of the game,” he said “because the chain stores are being so powerful on the market floor.”

“Without a farmer, I haven’t got a business.

“That bloke on the farm is the number one priority.”

The Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS, says preserving Sydney’s food bowl is vital.

It describes it as a source of employment, which generates economic activity worth $4.5 billion dollars to the NSW economy.

In addition, there is less waste and food millage and green space is retained.  This in turn cools urban spaces and provides corridors for wildlife. – Daniella Scotti @daniella_scotti