Australia's peak melon industry body is conducting several projects with the aim of boosting international trade of the fruit, which declined significantly during the pandemic.
In the 2021 season, Melons Australia Executive Director, Johnathon Davey admits that exports dropped by 40 per cent, while, total volume produced was down by just six per cent. He says work is continuing from the peak body to help rectify the issue heading into future seasons.
"We have a data and analytics project that is coming to its conclusion in December, being delivered by Fresh Intelligence Consulting," he said. "So far, it has already given us some real quality insight into Australian export of melons and the markets that they are going to. In the past twelve months exports to Japan increased by 43 per cent, even in the face of our overall exports reducing 40 per cent."
This project has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the melon research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.
Another project is the Federal Government funded Package Assisting Small Exporters (PASE) project, focusing on exports to Japan. Mr Davey says the Asian country is quickly becoming a major market for Australian melon growers and the project includes the quality assessment of sea-freight shipments of different musk melons, and allowing attention on maturity for higher Brix and improved the two-way flow of information along the supply chain.
This project sees Melons Australia collaborating with Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to better understand the issues that impact the supply of good quality melons. Since it commenced in 2020, a number of activities have been undertaken with melon growers and businesses, including trialling real-time SIM temperature loggers, fruit handling and post-harvest fungicide options.
"So, it really gives us the ability to look at future investment and support B2B engagement," Mr Davey said. "To make sure we have growers prepared, giving them and their business the right data and support to engage in their business to business connections, opening up new export markets and growing export markets. We didn't have Japan on board as a priority market 3-4 years ago. Now they are almost our number one export market. So, having these research projects underway is important to make sure we have the confidence and data to support future investment and marketing decisions in the exports."
Mr Davey also notes that export numbers for the July to September quarter in 2021 are already showing improvement on last year. Exports have increased by 122 per cent above those of the same period in 2020.
"I give credit to the whole industry because that has been achieved in light of air and sea freight access issues, which are only expected to continue for years to come," he said. "So, if we can continue to meet market demand and to supply locally and into export markets, while also grabbing all possible opportunities for further growth into new markets there is a fairly positive future for industry. "
There is also work underway on the melon variety front for both export and domestic markets, according to Mr Davey.
"There are trials on a new cool-season rockmelon in Queensland that has been going on this year, and that has done reasonably well," he said. "So, we encourage industry to trial new products. There are also some new watermelon varieties coming on board to hopefully address some of the supermarket-driven changes to fruit lines during summer production. But the industry continues to invest and focus on continual improvement and lifting quality, consistency and reliability. All while we are evolving to keep in step with the changing market and consumer needs."