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AU: Cherry growers call for changes to Asian export protocols

Australian cherry growers are struggling to keep up with demand from Asian markets due to current export and import protocols.

While Tasmania has been declared a pest-free zone and can airfreight cherries to key Asian markets such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand, it’s a very different story for cherry growers on the mainland, where cold treatment and ship freight is the only option for accessing most of these markets.

Cherry grower Hugh Molloy – who is Executive Director & General Manager of Antico and also treasurer for the Cherry Growers Association (CGA) – says the cold treatment protocols delay exports to Asian countries and severely limit possibilities for many growers.

“The season hasn’t been good for us in terms of exports because we can’t fully access these markets with mainland fruit under the current protocols. It takes too long,” he says.

“I can’t tell you how many people [from Asian markets] I showed fruit to this year that tasted it, loved it and wanted to buy it but couldn’t because of the protocols. They wanted supply immediately not in 21 days after cold storage.”

Cold treatment shipments takes a minimum of 18 days to reach China and other areas of Asia, while airfreight transit takes just a few days.

“We did it this year, we sent three 40 foot containers through to China using cold treatment, but by the time we made it into market the Chilean fruit was already there,” Mr Molloy says. “And yet we had huge demand for fruit if we could have sent directly at the time of harvest and loading.”

Cherry Growers Association Chief Executive Officer Simon Boughey says the high level of demand from Asian markets also puts pressure on Tasmanian growers to keep up with demand.

“We can’t keep up with demand out of China, or Asia in general, it’s huge,” he says.

“That’s why we’re trying to develop markets into China from other growing regions, not just Tasmania, but it’s a slow process and with demand the way it is we really want to have a quicker system.”

He says change is happening, with some Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia offering broader airfreight options for cherries from Australia – and opening up a longer supply of fruit as a result.

“We can supply these markets for three to four months but then other Asian markets for only six weeks due to differences in protocols, so there’s a lot of pressure getting back to us to supply fruit and we’d love to but until we get market improvement it’s going to be hard.”

Mr Boughey adds that it can be a challenge navigating the different export protocols for each region, as they vary so much.

“It’s such a labyrinth of who can do what where. And cold treatment is not really commercially viable.”

Currently about 80% of cherry exports go to Asian markets, or approximately 3,500 tonnes, but Mr Boughey says towards the end of the season growers are competing with cherries from other countries, particularly Chile, which does about 80,000 tonnes to Asia each season.

Both Mr Boughey and Mr Molloy say other export protocols desperately need to be considered so that Australian cherry growers can meet demands from Asian markets. Irradiation is one such option that could help solve these issues, but is still not widely used.

“There’s a couple of reasons we haven’t done much with irradiation yet,” Mr Boughey explains. “The first is that everyone has to send the fruit to Brisbane, adding further logistics to export, and the second is some countries aren’t happy with accepting irradiated fruit at the moment.”

Mr Molloy says while Australia has done huge amounts of research into irradiation, other countries could be years behind in what they know of it, which contributes to the hesitation around accepting irradiated imports into Asian markets.

“We need to have pathways that facilitate products arriving there in good condition, which is essentially airfreight, and I think an irradiation protocol would be great because it gives the Chinese the security the need and would also be great for other markets,” he says.

“I know China is researching it as a treatment option, but they’re probably three to four years behind where we’re up to in terms of knowledge of irradiation.”

Mr Molloy says there are great examples of countries already accepting irradiated imports from Australia, and that there would be potential for the plant in Queensland to open up facilities in other states if it was more widely accepted.

“The other thing is that some of these countries also have pests that need to be dealt with for export of their produce and I think Australia is so far down the track with irradiation research that we could offer assistance with education around irradiation so they could advance their position too,” he says.

“It’s a great opportunity for Australia to lead the way there and there is certainly strong interest commercially and within the government. It could be a win-win really.”

For more information:
Hugh Molloy
Antico International Pty Ltd
Tel: +612 9764 3833

Simon Boughey
Cherry Growers Association

Tel: +61 419 871 824


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