Vegetable supplies dipping, could get costlier for Chinese New Year

TAN WEIZHEN The Star 15 Jan 18;

Rainy weather in Malaysia affecting yield of vegetable crops, farms charging S’pore wholesalers more

SINGAPORE — The prices of some vegetables here have climbed 80 to 150 per cent in the past week, and may continue to remain high through to Chinese New Year next month, as the colder weather hits Malaysian farms and is affecting supplies.

The incessant rains and chilly temperatures have caused production to fall at the farms, and some wholesalers and at least one supermarket chain in Singapore are raising prices for the imported vegetables due to the drop in supply.

Prices of vegetables already tend to go up around the Chinese New Year period as families stock up on the produce and push up demand.

Zenxin, a wholesaler at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre which also owns a farm in Johor, said that the rains in Malaysia have affected its crops by about 30 per cent. Its executive director Mr Tai Seng Yee said: “There has been no sun for a week, plus the heavy rains, so our supply has been affected. Now we have to import from other countries to balance our supply.”

He added that the supply of certain vegetables could remain poor come Chinese New Year, possibly with a shortfall of about 30 per cent. Prices would go up if this happens. “Some crops need between 20 and 40 days to grow. Leaf lettuce, commonly used for steamboat and other dishes during Chinese New Year, and for lion dance performances, need 35 days.

“To ensure sufficient production, some planning is needed, but we can’t plan for unexpected things like bad weather.”

Wholesalers and importers here approached by TODAY said that given the shortfall in supply, the prices they have to pay for vegetables such as kangkong, chye sim, baby bok choy (xiao bai cai), and lettuce have gone up by 80 to 150 per cent.

Mr Jerry Tan, assistant secretary of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, said: “The cold weather is definitely affecting the supply. Prices are already going up. Compared to last week, the prices of certain vegetables have increased by 80 to 100 per cent. That’s quite a lot.”

Mr Tan, who is also the executive director of Hu Lee Impex, an importer and wholesaler of fresh produce, added that it has had to source from other countries such as China, Thailand or Taiwan. The company is monitoring the supply situation day by day, but on Monday (Jan 15), it raised prices by the same quantum (80 to 100 per cent).

Sheng Chai Vegetable Supplier, a wholesaler based at Pasir Panjang WholeSale Centre, is selling vegetables at higher prices to coffee shops, for instance. Owner Lim Lian Chai said: “We usually pay (the farmers) S$1 to S$1.20 per kilogramme for kangkong. Now it has gone up to S$3. It’s the same for chye sim.

“We are raising prices, but we can’t raise too much. Even if it goes up to S$3.50, they (coffee shops) will complain. I’m going to be making losses for sure.”

It has been reported in Malaysia that market prices for vegetables may rise in Singapore ahead of Chinese New Year. In Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s largest production centre for vegetables with 2,000 farms, temperatures have dropped from a mean of 18°C to 13°C. The frequent rain and lack of sunshine have slowed the growth of the crops.

The Star reported that, in Johor, farmers are reporting a 30 per cent drop in yield, which has resulted in the prices of some vegetables going up by 50 to 100 per cent.


Supermarkets here contacted by TODAY said that they are not raising prices for now, except for Sheng Siong. Its spokesperson said that the increased prices was because prices for vegetables from Malaysia, including kangkong and chye sim, have gone up. “Besides doing our best to keep any price increment reasonable, we also diversify our sources, by sourcing from China, Thailand, and Vietnam for leafy and (non-leafy) vegetables so as to maintain price stability.”

NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage and Giant said that they are maintaining prices.

Mr Peter Teo, director of fresh products at FairPrice, explained that its “source diversification strategy” ensures a stable supply and moderate costs for essential goods.

“Apart from Malaysia and Singapore, we also source vegetables from other locations including Thailand, China and Indonesia. This also applies to our fruit sources. For example, while supplies of bananas from Malaysia have been affected, we continue to keep a steady supply for the fruit from The Philippines, Ecuador, and Mexico,” he said.

It is similar for Cold Storage and Giant, which said that supply is stable as they work directly with the farms in Malaysia, and they practise “diversified sourcing”.

TODAY understands that for some businesses, long-term contracts are in place to guard against short-term price fluctuations for fresh produce.

Vegetable supply in Singapore, Malaysia affected by continuous rain
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 15 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: The prolonged rainy weather and overcast skies have affected the supply of vegetables on both sides of the Causeway, with one distributor saying that the supply from Malaysia has fallen by more than 20 per cent. This has led to a corresponding increase in prices seen by importers.

The supply of produce such as tomatoes, Japanese cucumber and iceberg lettuce, for instance, has dropped by as much as 30 per cent, according to Mr Tan Chin Hian from the Singapore Fruit and Vegetable Importers and Exporters Association (SFVA).

He said these are key vegetables grown and imported from Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, and prices for those items have increased by as much as 40 per cent. According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, Malaysia is Singapore’s top source of vegetables.

Sheng Siong supermarket chain has also seen a drop in the supply of vegetables from Malaysia, resulting in higher prices for produce such as kang kong, chye sim and bayam, said a spokesperson.

While it did not respond to queries on the exact price increase, the spokesperson added that the prices of leafy vegetables from Thailand and Vietnam remain stable.

“Besides doing our best to keep any price increment reasonable, we also diversify our sources, by sourcing from China, Thailand, and Vietnam for leafy and fruited vegetables so as to maintain price stability," said the spokesperson.

However, NTUC FairPrice’s director of fresh products, Peter Teo, told Channel NewsAsia that the supermarket chain has not noticed “significant fluctuations” in the price and supply of fruit and vegetable produce at its stores.

“This is due to our source diversification strategy which ensures stable supply and moderate cost of living of essentials for Singaporeans,” Mr Teo said.

“Apart from Malaysia and Singapore, we also source vegetables from alternate locations including Thailand, China and Indonesia. This also applies to our fruit sources – for example, while supplies of bananas from Malaysia have been affected, we continue to keep a steady supply for the fruit from The Philippines, Ecuador, and Mexico.”

SFVA’s Mr Tan also shared similar sentiments, saying that the association has been looking to alternatives such as China and Taiwan to supply produce affected by the rainy weather.


Local farmers too have not been spared by the continuous rain, with those growing leafy green vegetables impacted the most.

Farm 85’s assistant director Tan Liang Zhong said vegetables not sheltered by their greenhouses on the farm have been damaged by the rain. They include vegetables such as bok choy, chai sim as well as spinach. Mr Tan said up to 30 per cent of such crops have started to rot.

“Typically, there is a thin layer of wax around our vegetables to protect them, but under heavy and continuous rainfall as we have had in the past four days, the wax has eventually washed off,” Mr Tan explained.

“This has resulted in the rainwater seeping into the vegetables, resulting in a rot setting in.”

Even those protected under greenhouses have been affected due to a lack of sunlight, and they are growing slower than usual. Mr Tan said its daily produce quota has gone down by almost half.

Up to 90 per cent of the farm’s produce is sold to wholesale centres, while 10 per cent of its supply goes to supermarkets such as Sheng Siong and NTUC FairPrice.

Mr Tan told Channel NewsAsia that unlike the monsoon seasons of previous years, the impact year is quite different.

“Last year, we might have had between one and two hours of heavy rain. This time around, it’s been four days of almost continuous rains,” he said.


Another local farm, Bollywood Veggies, said that while it tends to grow hardier produce, herbs such as its lemongrass crop has taken a hit.

“Almost all the lemongrass we harvest for the farm has been damaged,” Bollywood Veggies’ CEO, Manda Foo said.

“Lemongrass needs drier conditions to survive, but the continuous rain has rotted out its roots.”

But other crops have been thriving thanks to cooler weather, Ms Foo said. They include the blue pea flower, moringa and winged beans.

Comcrop founder Allan Lim also said that herbs such as basil and oakleaf lettuce are thriving in the cooler temperatures. While his urban rooftop farm is at the mercy of the weather, taking steps to ensure the farm’s crops are more resilient to weather changes meant there has not been an adverse impact so far.

“In fact, crops like basil, mint, wasabi lettuce and oakleaf lettuce have increased in volume compared to this time last year, possibly because they do well growing in cooler weather,” Mr Lim said.

The company supplies its produce to online stores like Redmart, and will also extend its supply to supermarkets like NTUC FairPrice.

The rainy weather is expected to ease over the next few days, according to Singapore's National Environment Agency.