Australian police probe poisoning of 7M veggie plants; tomato shortage could double prices

By Tanalee Smith, AP
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Veggie prices likely to rise after plants poisoned

ADELAIDE, Australia — Was it a competitor or just a vandal who poisoned 7 million vegetable plants at a seedling nursery in Australia?

The sabotage — estimated at a loss of 23.5 million Australian dollars ($20.3 million) — could more than double produce prices across the country due to decreased supply.

About 4 million tomato seedlings were poisoned, as well as bell peppers, melons and eggplant.

The region of Bowen, in northern Queensland state, grows the majority of Australia’s winter vegetables.

Police investigations found that a herbicide was introduced in late June into the irrigation system of the Supa Seedlings nursery, which sells its seedlings to farmers for planting. Workers noticed the wilting and dying plants between June 20 and June 25.

Townsville Police Acting Inspector Dave Miles said police were considering a range of motives.

“It could be a grudge, it could be competition based, it could be the result of time-established market share, or it could be an act of vandalism,” Miles told reporters Wednesday.

He said 12 detectives were working on the case and would investigate possible links with three previous poisonings since 2002.

The owners of Supa Seedlings declined to comment to the media about the poisoning.

Denise Kreymborg of the Bowen District Growers’ Association told Sky News Australia that the poisoning affected 350 hectares of production land with the potential to produce about 200 tonnes of fresh produce. She said about 30 growers would be affected.

She said growers would continue harvesting their established crops in the next two months, with prices likely to spike around September when the lost seedlings would have been on the market.

“You can expect prices to double or even triple, we don’t know for sure,” Kreymborg said. “There’s still going to be tomatoes, capsicum, melons, zucchinis and eggplants grown in this area, just not as much.”

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