A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report estimated the country would produce a record 18,000 metric tons (MT).
Last year 10,000 MT were produced of a forecasted 15,000MT as a result of unfavorable seasonal conditions including heavy spring rainfall, the report said.
The report forecast exports at 7,000MT, up from 5,000MT the previous season, driven in part by mainland Australia’s new access to the Chinese market.
“In late 2017, cherries from Australia’s mainland were allowed to be air-freighted to China for the first time, allowing the fruit to be retailed in China within 2-3 days of harvest, compared to the previous period of 20 days through sea shipment,” it said.
“Previously, only Tasmanian cherries could be transported by air from the opening of the market in 2013, due to concerns over fruit flies.”
The reported explained the Australian cherry industry is comparatively small and accounts for around one percent of world output. It is also many times smaller than one of its main competitors, Chile, which last year exported in excess of 180,000MT.
Peaches and nectarines
The report also said that Australian peach and nectarine production is expected to increase slightly to 94,000MT during the 2018-19 season. Exports are forecast at 15,000MT, driven partly by new Chinese market access.
“In January 2018, new Chinese import protocols allowed peach, apricot and plum imports from Australia for the first time, following the earlier entry of nectarines in the previous year,” it said.
“Formal access for plums and peaches was not granted until mid-season, thus, the industry is expected to benefit from a full season of access over 2018/19.”
There was a significant increase in exports of nectarines to China in 2017-18, the second year of access, due to the better growing season, with early fruit ripening almost two weeks earlier than the previous year.
“Nectarines were well-priced in China because of better flavor. Most of Australia’s peach and nectarine exports are yellow-fleshed varieties, although white-fleshed fruit are exported to certain markets, particularly at the beginning and end of the season,” the report said.
Australian cherry overview
There are over 500 cherry growers in Australia with an estimated 3,300 hectares under production.
Almost all cherries are exported in the three months from November. Tasmania has a strong export focus, with over 90 percent of the harvest exported.
The island state is internationally accepted as a fruit fly free area and cherries do not need to be fumigated for export markets such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
In recent years, Hong Kong and China have accounted for around half of Australian cherry exports, with the latter market increasing its relative significance as more direct exports occur under new import protocols.
Australian cherry exports to the U.S. market are possible under an existing biosecurity protocol but are not commercially viable due to airfreight costs, the report said.