by Phil Jacob

The Daily Telegraph

HIS family has provided the nation with beetroot for nearly a century but farmer Ed Fagan says he now finds himself forced to destroy nearly six million beetroot shrubs – simply because he cannot compete with cheap, foreign imports any more.

“If I can’t even sell my products to the supermarkets because some of them sell imported goods for less than my cost price, it’s just not competitive any more,” Mr Fagan said yesterday.

“Those six million shrubs would cost us a couple of hundred thousand dollars and, if it’s going to waste, you have to ask what’s the point?”

One of the nation’s last growers of beetroot, its purple juice has flown through Fagan blood since the mid-1940s – and is something Mr Fagan hoped his son would be able to inherit one day.

“I’d like to think Henry could grow the stuff one day but it’s looking less and less likely, which is just a massive shame,” he said.

Cowra farmer Ed Fagan will plough out six million beetroot bulbs because imports from Peru, Thailand and Italy have killed the Australian beetroot industry

After Aldi started selling cans of beetroot for 75c, Woolworths and Coles followed.

Down the road from Mr Fagan’s Cowra farm, Australia’s only locally-owned cannery, Windsor Farm Foods, fears that supermarket assurances to “keep prices down” are killing Aussie producers.

Cannery operations manager Glenn McLeish said the once proud facility, originally built to feed US troops in WWII, was now down to its last 60 workers.

“We used to be able to employ 400 people working three shifts a day,” he said.

“But so many of our products are now produced cheaper in countries like Peru, Thailand and Italy because of cheaper labor costs and a lower currency. This sort of pricing is not sustainable and will see the further demise of Australian food manufacturers and the farmers who supply raw materials.”

Factory worker Vasil Stecovic, 64, has worked at the plant for nearly half a century.

“This cannery is truly the lifeblood of Cowra,” Mr Stecovic said.

“You wouldn’t be able to walk down the street and talk to someone who hasn’t had a family member who has worked here.

“The very possibility of an institution like this closing down would just break my heart, because it’s been my life for so many years now and I’d just hate the idea of everything that I’ve worked for being sourced from overseas.”

An Aldi spokesman last night confirmed sliced beetroot was 75c for 450g, but it was a “Product of Australia”.

Woolworths last night said it often accepted bids from suppliers “well above” cheaper, overseas rivals because it wanted to keep local beetroot on its shelves: “We are making positive choices to support Australian producers.”