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Price hike warning as food bowl floods

Consumers are being warned the price of fruit and vegetables could rise as flooding across Victoria and New South Wales inundates key agricultural areas.

Flooding in Shepparton, Victoria. Photo: AAP/Diego Fedele

Flooding in Shepparton, Victoria. Photo: AAP/Diego Fedele

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been touring flood-impacted areas in Victoria and NSW and said the continuing rain will drive prices higher.

“Tragically, there had been such a good harvest anticipated in wheat, in fruit and vegetables, in so many of the products that the Victorian food basin … is such a rich area, as well as in areas like poultry,” Albanese said.

“There’s no doubt that there will be an impact … and the impact will feed into higher prices, most unfortunately at a time when inflation has already been rising.”

Agriculture minister Murray Watt joined the Prime Minister on Monday to assess the flood damage around Forbes in central western NSW.

He told a media conference prime agricultural regions had been “very badly impacted by the repeated floods”.

“It’s likely that these floods are going to have a cost of living impact on people because of the impact of prices of fruit and vegetables,” Watt said.

The department of agriculture is trying to work out what financial impact flooding across parts of NSW, Victoria and Tasmania will have on agricultural production.

“I think that we can expect that it is going to be a very large dollar impact,” Watt said.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews conceded there would “almost certainly” be food production impacts stemming from the flooding.

“This is the food bowl of our state and the food bowl of our nation, whether it be in terms of fruit and veg and cropping more broadly,” he told reporters.

In Victoria’s north, where floodwaters continue to rise, farmers are counting the costs, especially in the food bowl around Shepparton.

Victorian Farmers horticulture president Nathan Free told AAP fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and plums have all been badly hit.

“If they get flooded now, you possibly may not have a crop the coming season,” he said.

“We won’t see it today and tomorrow but we’ll see it for the year to come.”

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said it was too early to say what the full impact on food availability and prices would be.

“Floodwaters have significantly impacted many parts of the agriculture industry,” she said.

“There will be significant impact and disruption coming through our supply chain in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, floodwaters could isolate the northern Victorian town of Kerang for a week.

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A sandbag levee is expected to help keep the majority of the town dry but it could be cut off for up to seven days, Victorian State Emergency Service chief operations officer Tim Wiebusch said.

“We are asking the Kerang community to consider whether they should now be moving to another location,” he told reporters on Monday.

Other Victorian towns are moving to the clean-up phase, with the state government announcing a $351 million flood recovery package.

The disaster funding includes $165 million in emergency road fixes such as filling potholes and repairing surfaces to get people and freight moving.

More rain is forecast in the coming days and the floods are expected to impact the state’s north for four-to-six weeks.

The Goulburn River at Shepparton peaked overnight at 12.05m, below the forecast peak of 12.1m and the 1974 flood level of 12.09m.

“That 15 centimetres makes a significant difference to the number of properties either isolated or impacted,” Wiebusch said.

“We believe around 4000 properties there are now either isolated or have some levels of inundation.”

Images show buildings in the middle of town surrounded by a vast inland sea of brown, muddy water and residents using sandbags to protect properties.

At Rochester, where waters have receded to a moderate flood level, about 800 to 900 homes have flooded but it is too early for authorities to confirm the extent of the damage.

A 71-year-old man was found dead in the backyard of his home in the town on Saturday.

A warning has also been issued for the Wimmera River, with Horsham residents told major flooding is possible on Monday and into Tuesday.

The Campaspe River at Barnadown, Rochester Town and Echuca peaked on Monday morning with major flooding occurring – higher than in 2011.

The SES has received more than 6000 calls for help and carried out more than 650 flood rescue requests since Wednesday when heavy rainfall began to lash the state.

Disaster recovery payments have been made available to residents in 23 local government areas and a 250-bed camp will open at the former Mickleham COVID-19 quarantine facility.

-with AAP

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