Farmers in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, are warning shoppers the price of vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower could soar next year if the region does not get a decent downpour this summer.
The region, dubbed "Australia's salad bowl", grows the most diverse commercial range of vegetables and fruit in the country with more than $370 million worth of produce sold each year.
The Lockyer Valley was drought declared in May and the region has not had decent rain since the 2013 Queensland floods.
President of the Lockyer Valley Growers Association, Michael Sippel, says growers have enough underground water to get them through until next year, but if dry conditions persist throughout summer, vegetable production will be cut next winter.
"We'll still see crops planted next winter but farmers might change to more trickle irrigation and just reduce their areas," he said.
"When we start to see reduced supply in the market, the prices start to sneak up.
"You might not notice it overnight but as we get further into winter they will."
Lockyer Valley-based Koala Farms owner Anthony Staatz, who is a major supplier of lettuce, twin-pack baby cos, midi cos and broccoli to Coles and wholesale markets on the east coast, says he will have to scale back if water supply issues persist.
He said he plants about half a million lettuce plants a week to keep up with demand, but that may be in doubt in the future.
"We're on the tail end of our season, so we'll get through this season fine but if our bores don't get recharged by next winter season then we'll have to reduce the amount of plants we put in the ground," he said.
"There will just be less supply around and that will result in significant price rises."
Mr Sippel said most farmers have relied on groundwater this season after the region's three irrigation dams, Bill Gunn, Atkinson and Lake Clarendon, ran too low to supply water to growers two years ago.
"We hoped to get good rain last summer but that just didn't eventuate," he said.
"We had a little bit of rain in February that gave us some optimism that we were going to get the Lockyer Creek to run and it just about started but then the tap turned off.
"You give it another month, two months and growers will say their bores are starting to suck a bit of air. It'll get tough."
Atkinson Dam is currently 5.4 per cent full, Bill Gunn Dam is 3.8 per cent full and Lake Clarendon Dam is just 0.5 per cent full, meaning water cannot be released to recharge groundwater aquifers or provide flows into surrounding creeks and weirs.
Business case gives growers hope
Mr Staatz said the region needed a reliable water source for next generation or food production would suffer.
"We've got a growing population and for us to keep up we have to increase production by 10 or 20 per cent every year," he said.
"To do that we need water infrastructure investment to be matched, so if that doesn't happen then we can't increase production and then you'll see more rises in the cost of food," he said.
A collaborative of stakeholders and industry groups in the Lockyer Valley and Somerset regions have secured a $1.4 million grant from the State Government for a business case to investigate water security options.
The study will look at the cost of pumping water from Brisbane's main water source, Wivenhoe Dam, or tapping into the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme via a pipeline.
Lockyer Valley Regional Council Mayor Tanya Milligan said it was a good step towards developing a sustainable water plan for the region's horticulture and agriculture industries.
"It really gives me a lot of hope, and I'm really grateful the State Government has recognised what's happening here, that our voices have been heard and that they really acknowledge the type of produce and the benefits coming out of the Lockyer Valley," she said.ABC