Australian strawberry growers express import concern

Australian strawberry producers remain concerned as the Dept of Agricultural and Water Resources (DAWR) continues a risk assessment for the importation of Japanese strawberries into Australia.

DAWR received a formal market access request from Japan for strawberries, which is Australia's northern neighbours highest priority horticultural new market access request.

However, according to Kate Sutherland of Tasmania’s Burlington Berries, who are partnered with the UK's Hugh Lowe Farms, there remains heightened concern on the potential for major pests such as spotted wing drosophila to enter Australia.

“From our experiences in the United Kingdom, the threat of spotted wing drosophila is very real to Australia,” Kate Sutherland told Fresh Plaza.

“It spread across the United States and Canada within months from 2009/10 and has now spread into Eastern Canada as well.”

Kate Sutherland with Fresh Plaza's Nicky McGregor at their Cressy farm, Northern Tasmania in January 2018

Kate said the recent Queensland fruit fly incursion into Tasmania was an example of how inadequate treatment regimes, such as fumigation, can potentially expose industries to new pests.

The import requirements for Korean strawberries include mandatory methyl bromide fumigation offshore for spotted wing drosophila, pest free places of production for angular leaf spot and pre-export visual inspection for spider mites and thrips.

“While we know trade can’t be restricted, it is important that biosecurity maintain a higher priority than the trade requirement.”

“If we lose that battle and spotted wing enters Australia, our businesses will become severely impacted as will our export markets.” 

Currently New Zealand’s horticulture sector is on increased alert for the brown mamorated stink bug which have been detected on ships originating in Japan.

Imports of fresh strawberries from New Zealand, the United States of America (California) and the Republic of Korea are currently permitted, provided they meet Australia’s biosecurity requirements. 

Australian strawberries are grown all year round with 91000 t produced up to June 2017 with 13% sent for processing, predominantly in preserves. The value of production was $506.5m while the wholesale value of fresh supply was $555.8m. 

According to a report from Hort Innovation, 72% of Australian households purchase fresh strawberries, buying an average of 417g per shopping trip.

As a World Trade Organization member, Australia is required to assess market access proposals and develop the least trade restrictive and scientifically justified import conditions. 

Australia and Japan have a strong two-way trading relationship, with agriculture exports to Japan worth more than $4.7 billion in 2016-17. The main exports to Japan include wheat and barley, wine and horticulture (oranges, mandarins, macadamias, table grapes and asparagus). In 2015-16, agricultural imports from Japan were worth $236 million.

Kate Sutherland
Burlington Berries

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