Young to Yangzte: Region's cherry growers turning to Chinese buyers

Fruit Fly Dec. 2, 2018

"This is a massive, massive boon," Mr Eastlake said. The climate around Young makes it prime territory for cherries and the NSW Department of Primary Industry said the Young region has seen some of the highest numbers of farmers registering to export to China in the state.

Growers have previously been restricted to sea-freighting their cherries to mainland China market because of Queensland fruit fly contamination fears. Now a new free-trade agreement between Australia and China has allowed growers to airfreight their produce after treating it for fruit fly.

Before the agreement, only growers in Tasmania could airfreight to mainland China, thanks to the island state being fruit fly free, while mainland Australian growers could export to Hong Kong.

But Mr Eastlake said Chile was Australia's biggest competitor for the Chinese market. The South American nation could produce 200,000 tonnes of cherries this season, Mr Eastlake said, while Australian growers are hopeful for a record season this year of 18,000 tonnes.

"But it can be six weeks before the consumers are eating it [Chilean cherries]," Mr Eastlake said, with the majority of Chilean cherries moved by sea freight. Now, theoretically, Young cherries could find themselves on mainland Chinese shelves three days after being picked. "You just can't beat something that's 72 hours from the tree. You just can't do it. The flavour's better. The appearance is better," he said.

"Nowhere in the world can get things to South-East Asia as quickly as we can." Previously, sea-freighting cherries from Australia to mainland China took 20 days. He could not see Chinese consumers paying a premium for 20-day old cherries, he said. Now, Mr Eastlake said he's waiting for his fruit to get bigger before he starts seeing what price he can get from China.

"In Australia you need a price point to move really big volume and we have a growing national crop that traditionally has been bigger than the domestic market can consume," he said.

He said growers in Australia needed to get at least $8 a kilogram for cherries just to remain in the industry. "There's no money in it at $7 or $8," he said. "We're not making money hand over fist. We're not out there buying Rolls Royces."

But the start of the season has been testing for growers, Mr Eastlake said. The drought conditions gripping the state meant Young's season started later than usual with smaller cherries.

"It's really dire for us out here. We'd take any rain we can get, " he said. Mr Eastlake said while growers could never keep up with the domestic demand he doesn't believe the local price of cherries will go up as result of the trade.
Ultimately, he said, smaller growers will come on board as export costs drop when more fumigators to treat produce come online.

One of those smaller growers in Young is Joanne Wells, whose orchard lies south of Mr Eastlake's and produces 150 tonnes, compared to Mr Eastlake's 500.

While Ms Wells knows growers can command a higher price in China, she's hoping this would give her more room in the domestic market.

"We don't have the volume. The costs are pretty high to meet with the protocols, getting it up and down through transport; I think that's going to be our big thing if we don't have big volumes," Ms Wells said.
But as a smaller grower she said she had a better control over her cherries quality: her smaller orchard allows her to be more hands-on, even getting down to what individual trees she may leave to be picked for another day.

She also said the larger producers, who have already started exporting overseas, have made a huge difference to the domestic market.

Ms Wells and Mr Eastlake both said the demand was still so strong for cherries that they still had to turn potential buyers away.

Ultimately they both saw it as a good sign for the Young region.

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