Australian cherry capital leaves 60% of fruit unpicked

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Australian cherry capital leaves 60% of fruit unpicked

Cherry growers in the Australian region of Young in New South Wales have left around 60% of fruit on trees this year due to poor returns and weather issues.

New South Wales Cherry Growers Association president Scott Coupland, has told the decision not to pick was made by many farmers for economic reasons, in an industry that has been hit by a series of difficult seasons.

"A little bit was to do with damage and it varies from orchard to orchard, but growers looked at what it was going to cost to harvest that fruit, what the returns were going to be, and realized there was nothing in it for themselves, so I guess they just walked away – that’s the only way we can do business nowadays, it's far too expensive," he says.

"The unfortunate thing is the industry copped a really bad hit last year and debt levels are quite high, so it’s going to be quite a challenge for growers when you look at that, and whether they’ll make a profit this year."

He adds that many growers feel the government could be giving more support to growers to get through these tough seasons.

"They've probably been a bit critical of the lack of the support for the community from our government, and that’s not necessarily financial support on our orchards, but other sorts of programs like funding for AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service), getting the product out of the country, research and development, and getting things done."

"We need not just the banks but the government to back us because a lot of growers have put everything on the line."

Coupland expects part-time growers will be leaving the industry, but the professional growers will stay and are concentrating hard on making the most of their opportunities in export markets, with final protocols for market entry in China expected early next year.

"There will also be a lot more looking into varieties that can handle the conditions; when you look at the Australian breeding program, there’s a number of varieties and selections going through there under evaluation that can handle a bit of rain and weather, so in the not too distant future we may start to find a few of these varieties being planted.

"I think it’s a must that we’re really going to have to focus on export, I know looking at some of the returns and what’s happened at the start of the season before we actually got some of these rain events, a lot of growers were disappointed with their returns.

"They felt they weren’t as good as what they should have been, so there’s quite a few growers who are starting to sit back and really concentrate on some of these export markets"

Taking the Chilean example in China

Coupland points to Chile is a good example of what can be learned from opening new markets and believes Australia can make the most of its proximity to China.

"When you look at countries like Chile they’ve had the ability to grow their exports to around 8,000 (metric) tons to that market [China] this year to date, and when you look at Australia and the close proximity to China, we have the ability to do a very similar thing," he says.

"We really have to look at our competitive advantage with Chile out there, and of course New Zealand, and the growth of the market will also depend on the protocol that we do have.

"If we manage an air freight protocol where we can actually have fresh cherries into the Chinese market, it’s going to make it very easy for us to get into that market before Chile and New Zealand do, and then we can really grow."

He says the other aspect of Australia's export task comes down to consistency and quality.

"It’s a challenge in the industry to see to it that being such a large market, they need consistent product and the right quality of product.

"We can definitely grow the right quality of product, I think it’s better than what Chile can produce, but the challenge then is to make sure it’s consistent, and they want consistent large volumes and that’s really been the strength of Chile."

Season update

Coupland says the season in Young has ended now, with the last last orchard finishing because of rain and a pack-out that wasn't good enough.

"The fruit that was left was still OK but the amount he had to throw away increased his costs so it is a smaller loss to walk away.

He says the state's other major cherry-growing area Orange still has a substantial amount of production ahead with good quality fruit on trees.

"The damage this year compared to last year is very different. Last year all cherries were no good. There was no sugar in the fruit and fruit broke down because of it.

"This year while there was some damage, the fruit that remained was of very good quality and had plenty of sugar it. It just became an
economic decision then."

He says volume estimates for New South Wales probably won't be known until the end of January.

Related story: Aussie cherries unlikely to hit lucrative Chinese New Year market

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