Tim Reid - Reid Fruits

AU: Cherry growers face tough markets

It has been a challenging cherry season for growers in Tasmania, the climate has posed problems and the markets have been difficult, which is unfortunate as the growers are producing some of the best cherries in years.

Tasmanian cherry grower Reid Fruits was well through the harvest when FreshPlaza went along to visit last week.

"Sizes this season have been exceptionally large," comments Tim Reid, owner of the company. "This is the result of a a hot October and November followed by rain in December."

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The Asian markets have been slower this year due to big volumes coming from Chile. China is one of Reid's main markets, but he explains that they have been careful to spread the market base so as not to solely rely on one market. They also supply South East Asia, South Korea and India.

Tim sees India as an emerging market which could match China in years to come, "India is around 10 years behind China."

The season starts in the first week of December with a Japanese variety especially for the Japanese market and would normally run through to mid February with the new orchard in Jericho which is at a higher elevation.

The harvest has now finished (week 4) but some cherries will be held back and put in the cold stores to be repacked in a couple of weeks to catch the Chinese New Year market. The Tasmanian season is early and CNY doesn't fall until 16th Feb which is late.

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As the cherries are for the high end market, Tim picks into 8kg Lugs, "We go all out for quality and cherries in big bins can get bruised in the field or when they are tipped onto the line in the packhouse. Using the small containers is time and labour intensive, but we think it worth it to keep quality high."

95% of the cherries packed by Reid Fruits are from their own orchards.

The cherries are all hydrocooled straight after picking and brought to the packhouse in refrigerated trucks where they are cooled for 24 hours before being packed, this ensures that the cherries are thoroughly chilled before packing.

Cherries are graded by high definition optical technology and the air jets place each cherry into specific size and quality channels. The grading machine only sorts around 70% of the cherries as it cannot rotate them 360 degrees due to the stalks, so every cherry is then checked by hand before being packed. This is a labour intensive process, around 300 people work in the pack house.

Reid Fruits has taken special measures to ensure the end buyer can be guaranteed that he is buying Reid cherries and not a counterfeit pack. The plastic lining in the boxes is printed with the Reid Fruits' name and there is a watermark on the base of the box.

Tim said the Reid Fruits cherry box is the most famous in China and is designed so that people who don't speak English can recognise the brand: the kangaroo symbolises Australia and the cherry on the box leaves no doubt as to what is inside. The boxes also include a card with a QR code which customers can scan to check the authenticity of the cherries.

The company also have their own certified officers for bio security checks, this was a big step forward for the industry, before they would have to give 24 hours notice to get Government officers on site to do an inspection.

Labour has been an issue this year, "We have backpackers from Europe, but not so many from other areas. This is a result of the Government taxing their earnings. Before, they could earn up to so much and claim the tax back, the first proposal was to tax backpackers 39 cents for each Dollar, but after industry opposition this was reduced to 15 cents, but the back packers still see this as too much."

There is an incentive scheme to get young Australians who are out of work to come into the agricultural industry during the harvest season. They can earn earn up to 5000 AUD without losing any benefits, but we were told that very few people registered, less than 100 throughout Australia, they just don't want to do this work.

Reid Fruits is up for sale, but although there has been a lot of interest both domestically and internationally, as yet no buyer has been found. Tim said he wants to ensure that the business will go to a buyer who will respect the long history of the company and has the right ideals for the future. In recent years there has been major investment in the company in the form of a new packhouse in the Huon Valley which was operational in time for this year's harvest and a new orchard at the later growing region of Jericho, where they also built a greenhouse with a retractable roof to protect the cherry crop.

For more information:
Tim Reid
Reid Fruits
Tel: +61 418 125 178
Email: cherries@reidfruits.com.au

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