Extreme weather, unpredictable donations, and an upswing in demand are putting strain on Australia’s food charities which are helping families struggling with the cost of living and putting food on the table.

While Foodbank Australia could once rely on regular donations from the agricultural sector, this has started to change largely due to weather events.

Although extreme weather previously impacted Foodbank’s food supply occasionally, its chief operating officer Sarah Pennell said this was no longer the situation.

Sarah Pennell said Foodbank’s work was being made more difficult by an increase in floods, fires, and storms.(Supplied: Foodbank Australia)

“‘It’s [weather events] impacting in one way shape or form on an ongoing basis now,” Ms Pennell said.

“It’s just such a complex issue, and how we might be affected in any given situation is often a surprise.

“When we’re looking at a national picture, it is happening all the time somewhere.”

These challenges, combined with increase demand for food relief services, mean organisations like Foodbank can no longer rely on excess food becoming available.

“We absolutely want to redirect surplus food, but increasingly we’re looking to proactively source the food that we need for food relief,” Ms Pennell said.

“So we are doing more and more collaborating with the industry. It is less and less a food rescue proposition.”

Potato growers have had to cope with more difficult weather conditions in recent years.(Supplied: Renee Pye)

Regular disruptions for growers

Zerella Fresh, which works with carrot, potato, and onion growers across South Australia, supplies produce to retailers across the country.

Rejected foods that do not meet supermarket standards generally end up as donations to Foodbank.

Zerella Fresh general manager Renee Pye said weather events were now causing frequent disruptions to supply chains.

“Obviously we don’t like rejected produce, but it’s great it can go to another home,” she said.

Renee Pye says uncertain weather events are making it difficult for businesses to plan.(Supplied: Renee Pye)

“It’s becoming a more common thing we are discussing. Whether we are talking to a grower in Queensland or a grower in Western Australia, we’re always being impacted by weather in one way or another, which is really unfortunate.”

Ms Pye said it was also getting harder to plan as a business around weather events.

“Our planning has changed over the last 30 years, and we just need to adapt to the environment that we’re in and move to less risk areas,” she said.

“So it does most definitely create its challenges, but we need to be adaptable with what we are doing as well.”

But with a changing climate these issues could become more common, according to Professor Patrick Hesp from Flinders University, who this week co-published a study into climate in South Australia.

“Certainly as the CSIRO has predicted we are seeing less spring rainfall, so the start of the growing season is being delayed,” he said.

“There is also an increase in extreme rainfall events. Extreme heat events have shown a general increase.”

Poor weather can deliver windfall

However, extreme weather events can also deliver an unexpected windfall for food charities.

While floods, bushfires or storms can mean expected supplies are no longer coming, it can also provide unexpected food.

“Supply chain disruption that is caused by disaster events can sometimes provide windfalls for us,” Ms Pennell said.

“So where a supply chain has been disrupted by a flood, for instance, it might mean that that stock that was intended to go from the east coast to the west coast, or vice versa, can’t. Therefore is made available to us.”

“It’s a mixed bag, and the issue for Foodbank is being flexible.”

Get our local newsletter, delivered free each Friday