Exports crucial to growth

February 06, 2018

The fruit industry needs change to continue to compete beyond 2020.

As you read this article, tens of thousands of tonnes of pears will be making their way off trees and into fruit bins across the Goulburn Valley.

Traditionally it starts with the Williams Bon Chretien, which is a processing pear, then moves on to the Packham pear, more bred for the fresh market.

After that, the pickers move onto the apple blocks, harvesting the bright green Granny Smiths and the crisp, red blush Galas, before moving onto the world-famous Pink Lady apples.

The fruit industry has been a major reason for Shepparton’s existence for more than 100 years.

The combination of climate, abundant water and soil type makes the Goulburn Valley ideal for stone (peach, nectarine, apricot) and pome (apple, pear) fruit production.

When these commodities are going well, Greater Shepparton does well.

The industry has transitioned from a reliance on processing varieties to more of a focus on the fresh market.

A fantastic development for this region in recent months has been the approval of an import protocol for Australian stone fruit to China.

An import protocol for apples to China is in the pipeline.

If we are to keep the world buying the product of our water, sunshine and land, we need to consider carefully how the fruit industry will operate into the future.

Export is required to grow the industry and, in global markets, we face significant challenges competing against the likes of Chile and South Africa. Key challenges are managing costs and standardising quality.

A recent Apple and Pear Australia study has found on average it costs $1.06 a kilogram to store, pack and grade apples in Australia.

Though there are no real benchmarks, this is assumed to be quite high, and most likely due to many small to medium-sized operations not having the scale to invest in state-of-the-art grading and packing technology.

The report, Packhouse Optimisation Project, found costs could be reduced by 50 per cent to 75 per cent, but large volumes of fruit were needed to justify the investment in the required technology.

Orchard businesses will need to work more closely together in the future if fruit production and packing efficiency are to be maximised.

With domestic demand satisfied, fruit industry growth requires a competitively priced and high-quality Australian product in export markets.

â– Sam Birrell is chief executive of the Committee for Greater Shepparton

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