The farmers that need your support

Oyster farmers look to reinvent their products to keep stock moving during coronavirus

News
Aa

Oyster producers have been hit hard by the closure of wholesalers and restaurants.

Aa
Wonboyn Lake farmers Kel Henry and his wife Caroline farm about 10 hectares and produced 40,000 dozen oysters last year alone. Photo: David Rogers Photography

Wonboyn Lake farmers Kel Henry and his wife Caroline farm about 10 hectares and produced 40,000 dozen oysters last year alone. Photo: David Rogers Photography

Oyster farmers across the state are investigating the potential of freezing or bottling their product after the closure of restaurants and wholesale markets halted their income.

The current financial impacts of COVID-19 restrictions could have ripple effects in three years time if stock isn't cleared this season to make way for new growth.

It's a substantial blow to the industry that had recorded increased annual sales of about seven per cent in recent years encouraging growers to invest in new infrastructure, leases and technology including oyster grading systems.

Photo: David Rogers Photography

Photo: David Rogers Photography

The months before coronavirus hit, the industry was already in survival mode after battling bushfires in the south and floods in the north.

Wonboyn Lake farmers Caroline and Kel Henry have about 10 hectares and produced 40,000 dozen oysters last year alone.

Having been in the industry for 30 years operating Wonboyn Rock Oysters, they had seen plenty of market seesaws.

Oysters will continue to grow if left in the water, which may offer an increase sale price for larger stock in a few months time.

But Ms Henry, who is also chair of the NSW Farmers oyster committee, said they needed to keep stock moving off farms and onto consumers' plates in a new way.

Sydney Rock varieties can take at least three years to mature.

Wonboyn Lake farmers Kel and Caroline Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

Wonboyn Lake farmers Kel and Caroline Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

"So if you have got a paddock full of sheep and you can't move those sheep you can't actually bring anymore sheep into that paddock because it's already full," she said.

"The oyster farmers, because they can't move their stock, have only got so much water and bags and infrastructure so they can't buy new young oysters to be in the marketplace in three years so they are going to have loss of income now and then they will have loss of income in three years."

With 80 per cent of all oysters sold through wholesale or retail markets and Easter one of the busiest selling periods, industry leaders have gathered for NSW DPI, NSW Farmers and Oysters Australia meetings to discuss new marketing opportunities.

This includes promoting direct farm sales, a freezable supermarket product and bottled options.

"Oyster farmers can actually post oysters because a Sydney Rock would last a week to 10 days out of water so you can actually post or freight them," Ms Henry said.

Kel Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

Kel Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

Ms Henry admitted convincing cash-strapped consumers to splurge on a luxury item would be difficult.

"The problem I see is that people have only got so much money now...and they are going to use the money they have got to buy more staple things," she said.

"It could be a while before we see a return to increase in sales but I don't know how long it'll be before we get the big market share that we had prior to this."

It is one of the reasons NSW Farmers is now calling for stimulus measures to support agriculture and regional communities through and beyond the COVID-19 restrictions.

The proposed package includes funding for weed and pests control, fencing improvements, enhancement of on-farm energy infrastructure, improved accommodation options for casual labour and a job-rich investment in conservation and land management.

Kel and Caroline Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

Kel and Caroline Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

NSW Farmers President James Jackson said there were real opportunities to provide specific stimulus measures to support agriculture, local food and fibre production and regional economic activity.

These include small scale processing plants close to growers to extend product freshness and shelf-life.

Kel Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

Kel Henry. Photo: David Rogers Photography

"We have identified a range of options that reduce or remove supply chain issues in fresh food and fibre production, provide a boost to regional economies and provide opportunities for short term and longer term employment opportunities," he said.

"The stimulus proposal has been provided to Premier Berejiklian and NSW Farmers is committed to working with the recently established Department of Regional NSW and Resilience NSW to drive the delivery of stimulus programs for agriculture and regional NSW."

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by