Major Australian vegetable crops

The Australian vegetable industry had a gross value of production of around $3.45 billion in 2016-17, roughly in line with its average value over the last 20 years. This represented a little over six per cent of the total value of Australian agricultural production.

Australia’s vegetable growers produce a wide range of vegetable crops on a commercial scale to meet market demands. Over 90 per cent of all fresh vegetables sold in Australian supermarkets are grown in Australia, with the few imports covering vegetables with production windows that are restricted to small growing seasons, like asparagus and garlic.

Potatoes are by far the biggest vegetable commodity grown in Australia by volume, with over 1.3 million tonnes of potatoes grown for human consumption and processing in 2016-17. The next-largest crops were tomatoes (around 426,000 tonnes), carrots (around 318,000 tonnes), onions (around 277,000 tonnes) and head lettuce (around 128,000 tonnes).

Potatoes are also the most valuable crop grown in Australia as measured by value of production, with a value of around $717 million in 2016-17; however, with their price per tonne being significantly lower than those of many other vegetable crops, this is mostly due to the large tonnages produced. This is also shown by the higher comparative value of Australian tomato production ($645 million) – while Australian tomato production is only around 30 per cent as large as potato production by volume, it is nearly 90 per cent as large when measured by by value.

Many of the other most valuable vegetable crops in Australia also reflect an overall higher price per tonne, rather than a value supported by weight of production, such as mushrooms ($396 million), leafy salad vegetables ($304 million) and broccoli/baby broccoli ($229 million).

Price and cost of production for selected vegetable crops

The latest information provided by ABARES on prices per tonne for individual vegetables covered the financial year 2014-15. AUSVEG has taken this data, and ABARES data from every prior year going back to 2007-08, to calculate the “average” farmgate price per tonne for selected major vegetable crops in Australia, and the “average” cost of production per tonne for the same crops.

Given the fluctuations that can occur in vegetable pricing from week to week (let alone year to year) due to a range of seasonal factors and external influences, we are presenting the following chart for broad illustrative purposes only. It does not reflect the overall performance of the Australian vegetable industry, or performance of any individual Australian farm, and should only be used as an indication of the relative costs and farmgate prices of particular vegetable crops.

If you’re interested in wholesale market prices for vegetable lines, Hort Innovation is currently funding a project tracking and reporting on market prices.

AUSVEG also provides a bi-monthly look at the financial performance of key vegetable commodities in its Veggie Stats series, which features current information on value of production, area sown, number of producers and export statistics for major vegetable crops grown in Australia.

Physical characteristics of Australian vegetable farms

In 2016-17, there were around 2,300 Australian farm businesses growing vegetables with an estimated value of operations of over $40,000.

The number of Australian vegetable farms fluctuates considerably from year to year, with many farms growing vegetables when prices or seasonal conditions make it a profitable enterprise, and switching to other crops in other years. In 2016-17, the change was also attributable to a drop in the number of smaller farms (those planting less than 20 hectares).

The Australian vegetable industry has a large population of these small farms, with over 30 per cent of vegetable-growing farms in 2016-17 planting fewer than 5 hectares to vegetables, and nearly two-thirds of the industry planting fewer than 20 hectares.

However, the overall volume of production is dominated by larger farms, with the 13 per cent of farms that planted more than seventy hectares to vegetables in 2016-17 representing over 60 per cent of all Australian vegetable production.

Thanks to the varying climates and and geographical benefits of the array of vegetable growing regions around Australia, our industry can maintain year-round supply for most vegetable crops, meaning that there are very few fresh vegetable imports into Australia.

Data provided by ABARES shows that populations of vegetable farms around Australia are spread across three tiers, with Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales leading the pack, followed by South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, with the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory not captured in the data. Queensland and Victoria contribute the most to the overall production of the Australian vegetable industry.

More specific data on where vegetables are grown in Australia, including data for all Australian states and territories, is available through the Australian Bureau of Statistics through its surveys on agricultural commodities and the value of agricultural commodities produced. However, given that these two datasets have different samples and have historically not aligned in other definitions (such as the minimum value of operations to be counted in a survey), AUSVEG strongly cautions against directly comparing the two sources.

Financial characteristics of Australian vegetable farms

There is a continuing trend in the Australian vegetable industry towards fewer, larger farms. With these larger farms able to benefit from economies of scale and re-invest their larger profits (in dollar terms) into land, machinery and other working capital, they are able to continue expanding their operations to service an increasing market.

However, while their cash receipts are increasing from larger volumes of production, this is necessarily being matched by higher costs. This has meant that while farmgate prices are on an overall increasing trend, the average total farm cash income for Australian vegetable farms has increased at a slower pace than overall turnover.

In 2016-17, the average Australian vegetable farm had total cash receipts of around $1.42 million, and total cash costs of around $1.15 million, with a total farm cash income of a little over $265,000.

Labour continues to be the largest of these cash costs. With the production of many vegetable crops reliant on manual labour to avoid crop damage throughout the production, harvest and post-harvest process, the average vegetable farm spent over $230,000 on hired labour in 2016-17 (which still excludes work done by the farmer and their family and its equivalent dollar cost).

Other major cost categories include contracts paid for other services, packing charges and materials, fertiliser, and seed costs.

While data is available for previous years and is presented here for informational purposes, the diversity of crops grown, seasonal variations and other factors that contribute to the “average” expenditure mean that category spends from individual years should not be compared, except as part of the broader trend (noted above) towards higher overall costs due to larger farm sizes.

The research and data presented on this page were made available through strategic levy investments under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.