Tas fruit growers scope China potential

Skills, training and education were the focus of discussion between Phil Pyke of Fruit Growers Tasmania and representatives of the Government of Shaanxi Province, the world's largest apple producing region with more than 50% of global output, during a recent visit to China. 
The purpose behind the visit was scoping potential opportunities as defined under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Tasmanian Government and Government of Shaanxi, signed in front of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and President Xi of China in Canberra during 2014. The MOU was written to further cooperation between Tasmania’s agricultural sector, particularly the production horticulture sector, and the same sector in Shaanxi. Shaanxi is invested heavily in apple breeding programs, with Fuji, Golden Delicious and Cripps Pink among preferred lines for development, all of interest to Tasmanian growers. Australian growers are keen to determine whether there is market access available in China, according to Mr Pyke. "Australia, in particular Tasmania, has a different seasonal window for evaluating varieties in a commercial setting. Australia has the potential to take up varieties that don’t suit China’s growing conditions and the potential to sell China access to germplasm that doesn’t suit Australian conditions," he said. 
Fruit Growers Tasmania had been working with Jean Dong and George Wang of Melbourne based produce export and marketing company Winworld ahead of the visit. The pair arranged meetings attended by Mr Pyke with relevant Shaanxi Government staff.
Talks focused on opportunities both in Shaanxi and Tasmania, including basic on farm practices, such as integrated pest management, to the research levels between relevant universities, the University of Tasmania and Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture.
Recent Skills Needs Analysis conducted by Fruit Growers Tasmania (FGT) identified a range a training and education requirements for the State’s growers as their small, medium and large-scale operations undergo expansion over the next five years. FGT has worked with Tas TAFE to create entry level courses in Production Horticulture, and as its registered training organization to teach courses for leading hands and assistant managers on-farm as part of a full training continuum from entry level to tertiary. “A supportive skills, training and education regime is paramount to supporting industry growth, particularly around export markets, thereby avoiding a future skills shortage,” said Mr Pyke.
“Chinese farmers are no different with challenges around up-skilling their growers from the small village based operation to the larger corporate model in order to improve productivity and post farm gate value, while maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base.” Mr Pyke also noted that the Chinese are keen to improve the confidence of local consumers in their own farm produce.
There is precedent for the sort of arrangement being established between Australia and China. Apple and Pear Australia runs its Pink Lady apple program in Shaanxi, which already provides training opportunities. “As an APAL member, FGT is keen to include this peak body in any proposed training structure which could see courses taught in Shaanxi as well as students (including key growers and agronomists) studying here in Australia,” said Mr Pyke.
Mr Pyke was in China at the same time as the Premier of Tasmania and his delegation, and met with them several times as the scoping work was undertaken on behalf of the State Government.
“Australia’s agricultural producers are world class in many areas and the export of skills, training and education as well as joint research could become another growth industry,” he said.
“There is still a long way to go with the development of a framework. It is likely a Shaanxi Government delegation will come to Australia over the later part of 2015.”

For more information:

Phil Pyke
Fruit Growers Tasmania
Phone: +61 407 203 318

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