Crunch time for local apples

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

WA-grown apples are being cast aside for cheaper, inferior fruit from the eastern states and it's going to cost the industry money, say local growers.

Apple growers claim some market agents are bringing varieties of apples in from eastern states instead of sourcing them locally and it's hurting their hip pocket.

Manjimup apple grower Vic Grozotis said Pink Lady and Royal Gala apples were being trucked from the east despite being available in WA.

"At this stage we have to compete against this fruit … it's going to drive prices down and they're using inferior quality product to do this," Mr Grozotis said.

Apples coming into WA from other States are treated with methyl bromide, a pesticide that has been phased out by most countries.

WA apples are not treated with methyl bromide because of the State's codling moth-free status.

Mr Grozotis said it was ironic that despite the push by major retailers to promote their food as clean and green, supermarkets were failing to label their interstate apples as 'treated with methyl bromide'.

"Our biggest concern is that we're seeing inferior product coming into the State that has been chemically treated and has a much lower shelf life," he said.

"It can have a detrimental impact on our own product because of the perception this inferior product is giving to apples.

"We are concerned the supermarkets and retailers are not identifying that this fruit has been fumigated with methyl bromide.

"We believe that these products are being brought in to manipulate the WA price factor and deliberately drive prices down, particularly when fruit is achieving better prices than the east coast."

It's a situation that has not only raised the hackles of growers but of the industry body.

Fruit West executive manager Gavin Foord said since the State Government eased WA's restrictions on bringing in fruit from other States, shop shelves were being stocked with increasing amounts of interstate produce.

"They're bringing it in because they can get it cheaper," he said.

Ultimately, all the industry could do about it was to encourage consumers to choose WA fruit first.

"The good thing we have at the moment is a strong Buy West Eat Best campaign," Mr Foord said.

"Our best defence against interstate fruit is to clearly brand our own so people can support local industry.

"We've got to ask our customers to have a look for Buy West Eat Best or WA-grown on the sticker."

In the meantime, Mr Grozotis said several fruit growers were considering boycotting the market agents choosing interstate apples over locally grown fruit.

"We're disappointed with one or two market agents but the majority of market agents in Canning Vale have shown good loyalty towards WA growers and the WA industry," he said.

"However, there are one or two rogue market agents who have built up their businesses based on WA growers over the years and are now basically kicking the industry in the teeth.

"Growers within the industry are actively encouraging other growers not to supply these market agents when supplies are short."

A Woolworths spokesman said the supermarket was sourcing apples from WA and aimed to continue to do so.

Coles has confirmed it has been selling Royal Gala apples from South Australia for the past month but a spokesman said it was only sourcing interstate fruit because the Royal Gala season had not yet started in WA.

The spokesman said that by the end of this week WA-grown Royal Galas should be available and hitting supermarket shelves.

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