Carnival Australia farm tour shines light on pandemic hit farmers giving them a voice during cruising suspension

Sture Myrmell, President of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia, has participated in a special farm tour to give a voice to farmers who have been hit hard by the suspension of cruising during the pandemic.

The farmers, with properties on the north-western fringe of Sydney, are longstanding suppliers to Carnival Australia brand ships accounting for thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables and herbs.

Manuel Xerri, who farms a 600-acre property with his brother Frank, said the farm’s output and income had been slashed by 40 per cent or more while cruising has been paused.

“We never expected something like this, no one could have imagined it,” Manuel said. “We really need the cruise ships to sail again. It is our livelihood and it isn’t easy. Without them we can’t keep going.”

The Carnival Australia farm tour also called at Gourmet Herbs where the Vassallo family, Jane, Marce and son James, produce a range of niche market micro herbs, zucchini flowers and edible flowers. Their business was devastated by the cessation of cruising.

Also visited was Matthew Attard who supplies cabbage, iceberg lettuce and cauliflower, and, having increased output over 10 years of supplying cruise lines, has now seen a big reduction in activity.

Sture Myrmell visited the Xerri farm where Manuel gave him a walking tour of the property, which has a ploughed field that is ready for sowing a new crop when cruising gets the green light to resume.

“It is great to come out here and meet farmers like Manuel and to see where our product comes from knowing that these are people who are doing it tough,” Mr Myrmell said.

“We are looking forward to being back in business and able to support the farmers – 2021 is going to be a better year than 2020 and we are optimistic that we will be sailing again soon.”

At Gourmet Herbs, the Vassallo family said the suspension of cruising was a body blow to what had been a thriving business for nearly 20 years.

“We can’t wait for the cruise ships to return because they are such a huge part of our business,” Jane Vassallo said. “I do understand not being able to go overseas at the moment but if we were just allowed to travel around Australia that would be awesome.”

Head of Carnival Australia supply chain, Jeremy Goodman, said farmers who supply cruise lines are the epitome of resilience overcoming challenges quite apart from the pandemic with extreme weather conditions also taking a toll.

“The pandemic has been a big hit for our farm suppliers and for everyone involved in getting the produce to the ships,” Mr Goodman said. “There is a huge supply chain that goes into making the magic that is cruise.”

Corporate Executive Chef Uwe Stiefel said the farm visits will become a regular feature for Australia’s largest cruise organisation.

“We already have a lot of contact with the farmers through our regular visits to the markets but it is certainly on our agenda to make more of these farm visits,” Mr Stiefel said. “They grow the produce that we serve to our guests and crew and the farm visits help us understand the challenges they face.”

Fresh produce wholesaler Paul Nelson from In2Food said farmers had grown their businesses in line with the growth of cruise and the pandemic had taken them back to where they were a decade or more ago.

“It is heartbreaking to see farm families doing it so tough,” Mr Nelson said. “It is totally essential for cruising to return. These farm suppliers have focused on cruise for the past 10 years.”

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