THOUSANDS of tonnes of oranges in the Riverina have been left to rot as growers grapple with a bundle of issues including weather, labour, freight and low prices.
Griffith District Citrus Growers Association chair Vito Mancini said it was the worst season in living memory, with Navels harvested and Valencia season starting.
"It's been a perfect storm with international freight issues, labour issues, our inputs like fertiliser have all been expensive and coupled with the La Nina has really lowered our quality," he said.
"An industry average of 40 or 50 per cent first grade has been diminished to about 10 to 15pc first grade.
"That premium fruit is what pays the bills and not having enough of it has left I would suggest 25,000 tonnes behind on the trees or stripped onto the ground or in paddocks for the cattle.
"There hasn't been enough homes for lower grade fruit so they took advantage of the volumes of it and pricing of it was way below cost of production."
Mr Mancini grows blood oranges on his farm at Lake Wyangan and is usually picking until December but quality issues and lack of access to wet orchards has meant his season was cut short in October.
He would normally harvest more than 1000 tonnes of fruit but this year picked about 700 tonnes with 300 of that going to cattle and about another 250 left on the trees.
For Super Seasons Pty Ltd orchard at Hillston, general manager Peter Ceccato, labour shortages had been one of the biggest issues.
Mr Ceccato said they usually get labour from the Pacific Islands but government red tape had been making that harder.
With limited pickers, they only harvested about two or three thousand tonnes with about 30,000 tonne left on the trees.
Continued delays in international shipping had further limited the market and Mr Ceccato said this had impacted prices and the orchard won't be picking Valencias.
"Nobody wants it. Contracts are being torn up for Valencias and for juice," he said.
"They've gone from being $450 a tonne which made it feasible to us, to $150 a tonne if you were under contract to spot market out of contract now $50 a tonne delivered.
"Considering it costs $35 tonne to deliver and you've still got to pick it and it costs $35 to pick around 350 kilograms - you're going backwards.
"You just leave it, walk away, another year."
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