Farmers Blame Gov't Policy as Cucumbers Double in Price

Farmers are blaming short-sighted government policy for the mushrooming prices of cucumbers and tomatoes in recent weeks, with cucumbers doubling to as much as NIS 10 per kilo.

Super-Sol Sheli branches this week have been selling cucumbers for 9.99 per kilo, while Mega in the City branches have been charging NIS 7.99. At the AM:PM chain, cucumbers cost NIS 7.90 per kilo.

Rami Levi Shivuk Hashikma charged NIS 3.99.

The price at which wholesalers sell cucumbers to the retail chains rose to NIS 6 this week, double the price of a fortnight ago. (The price at which wholesalers sell is set on a weekly basis by the Plants Production and Marketing Board. )

Marketing chains usually get a 20% discount from wholesalers below the plant board's recommended price, which means they were paying NIS 4.80 per kilo of cucumbers.

The price of tomatoes, which doubled last week, rose by another 20% this week. The plant board yesterday set the wholesale price of the fruit at NIS 8.20 per kilo, compared with NIS 4 a month ago.

Going by the roughly 20% discount that wholesalers give the retail chains, they were getting the tomatoes for NIS 6.50 per kilo.

Super-Sol Sheli yesterday charged NIS 9.99 per kilo of tomatoes, compared with NIS 7.90 10 days ago. But some chains decided against raising the price of the staple any further, after the recent increases.

Ten shekels per kilo seems to be where Israeli consumers draw the line and stop buying, one retailer said.

Why the increases? Meir Tzur, chairman of the Israel Farmers Federation, blames it on a manpower crunch caused by short-sighted government policy aimed at foreign workers. As a result, some farmers are simply not planting tomatoes and cucumbers, both of which are labor-intense crops. Peppers, for instance, are less labor-heavy, farmers say.

"The consumer pays the price of the government's populism," said Tzur, who is also secretary-general of the Moshavim Movement.

He adds that up to NIS 8 per kilo for cucumbers at the stores is a fair price.

Fresh fruit and vegetable wholesalers also blame the weather: The rain came early this year and farmers weren't prepared, they say.

More to the point, neither tomatoes nor cucumbers are likely to drop in price for at least a month, warns Tzur. Possibly the government might approve imports from Jordan to relieve the situation, but given that there isn't actually a shortage of either product, that isn't the most likely scenario.