ROCKMELON growers in North Queensland are demanding major supermarkets provide more support after a listeria outbreak on a farm in NSW threatened to cripple their industry.
Burdekin grower Sib Rapisarda, who has been growing rockmelons for 38 years, said “one grower’s stuff up” was having a disastrous effect on the industry.
In what should be the peak of their season, growers are instead leaving fruit to rot in the field after rockmelons were removed from supermarket shelves for a brief period earlier this year.
Consumer demand has not picked up and the industry has taken a hit worth millions of dollars.
Mr Rapisarda said he hadn’t been able to sleep for three months and was doing his best to keep on his 100 staff.
“One bloody grower stuffed it for everybody, it has caused damage to the whole industry and our reputation,” he said.
“I’m picking melons now, getting the best quality fruit I can and I can’t sell it.
“The biggest thing is because the melons have been off the shelves, the retailers…. are not putting them on their shelves.
“The retailers are not helping us out. They are not displaying good quality rockmelons that they know are safe in the stores.
“We’re losing money, I’ve been on this farm for 38 years so I’m not just going to shut it down.
“We need a bit of help at the end of the day and the retailers need to get on board and start promoting the product.”
Mr Rapisarda said while consumer demand had declined, the supermarkets were not helping to promote the product.
“Don’t put them on the back shelves next to the potato and pumpkin and don’t put a ridiculous price on them.
“I’m giving them away at the moment and a lot of good fruit is getting wasted.
“How could it get any worse? It can’t get any worse than this.
“Look at those whole line of NSW growers that couldn’t even get in the field, and all the people put off, the impact on transport companies.
“We’ve done a lot at the end of the day, making sure it is safe, but if the retailers are not stocking them and putting them in the right places, with the right price on them… it has been too slow on the retail side.”
Bowen-Gumlu growers association president Carl Walker said the ramifications for the industry had been tough and the whole industry was suffering.
“We grow a good, safe product and it was an isolated incident that unfortunately had dire consequences,” Mr Walker said.
“One grower does close to 1000 acres just himself, there’s a hell of a lot grown up here.”
Mr Walker urged consumers to stock up on North Queensland produce to help the growers.
“It is coming into our growing season, and because it is grown during winter it grows a bit slower, has better shelf life and is better tasting. North Queensland produce you’d struggle to beat.”
Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said sales of Queensland rockmelons have been severely impacted by the recent listeria outbreak in New South Wales and local growers need our support.
“I’m told demand is down 50 per cent and both local sales and exports have been impacted by this incident in the southern states,” Mr Furner said.
“Our local industry needs the support of consumers who understand this was an isolated incident which has been linked to only one grower.”
Australian Melon Association chairman Mark Daunt said safety is the main priority for Queensland farmers.
“There is no ongoing risk of listeriosis from rockmelons now on sale,” Mr Daunt said.
“The industry has invested in a research project to support rockmelon growers, to ensure their food safety systems are as effective and efficient as possible.
“We are also working closely with our growers and retailers to ensure consumers understand rockmelons are safe to eat.”