Australia’s only irradiation facility with approval for exports to the United States is ready for its first big season of mango deliveries.
Irradiation is a technique used to sterilise fruit fly and other insects before products are exported.
Brisbane company Steritech earned the American approval in January, becoming one of just eight accredited facilities around the world.
“The approvals came at the end of the last mango season, so there were only two [small] consignments sent,” general manager Glenn Robertson said.
“It was good that they had that opportunity to test that market, but this season will be a really interesting test to see how much volume goes.
“I think the first consignment is set to be exported out at the end of this month.
“They are all going to be airfreight [and] it will be a consignment which will be about 6 tonnes.
“We’d be happy and I think the exporters would be happy with a couple of hundred tonnes going over to that American market this season.”
Mr Robertson was speaking at an Australian Horticultural Exporters Association seminar in Bowen, North Queensland.
The seminar gave growers a chance to hear from experts on the key issues affecting the export of Australian fruit and vegetables.
The Bowen region is Australia’s biggest winter producer of vegetables, such as tomatoes and capsicums. It also produces tropical fruits, including mangoes.
Euri Gold Farm owner Dale Williams is one of those who could benefit from access to a United States-approved irradiation facility.
He has been exporting to other countries for four years, although he estimates about 90 per cent of his mangoes still go to the Australian domestic market.
This year he has received approval to send his mangoes to the United States.
“I think if you can move more fruit into other markets, it smooths out the peaks where you might get oversupply in the peak of your season,” he said.
“If you can move fruit into other areas [during those peaks] then your potential to maintain viable prices in your domestic market is increased.”
The Steritech facility also has approval to send lychees to the United States and Mr Robertson hopes to send around 60 tonnes of that fruit this season.
Searching for new opportunities
The seminar in Bowen covered several topics the region’s growers will need to contend with, particularly market access negotiations and biosecurity requirements.
Although Bowen produces about $450 million worth of fruit and vegetables per year, it does not send much to foreign markets.
Australian Horticultural Exporters Association executive director Michelle Christou said opportunities could be starting to open.
“In the past we have had a very strong domestic market for our fruit and vegetables and only about 10 per cent of that has been exported,” she said.
“With our dollar [falling in value] we have become more competitive in the Asian marketplace and that’s where the opportunity lies.”
Ms Christou said a major step forward could be taken if air freight access into Asian markets was increased — something the industry and government were already working on.
“Our main point of difference in the Asian marketplace is the fact that we can get produce there overnight,” she said.
“We’ve got direct air freight routes that are cost effective, so during periods where there is a week or two-week gap where we can get higher prices than during the rest of the year, we can justify concentrating on the export market and bringing greater returns.”
Tomatoes are by far the biggest crop grown in Bowen, totalling about $160 million per year.
However, the export market is extremely limited for Australian tomatoes.
Vee Jays Tomatoes owner Jamie Jurgens said the only export market available at the moment was New Zealand.
“That’s the only place a protocol is in place through our irradiation [program],” he said.
“Like all products, we do have periods of oversupply domestically and it would be good to have extra markets out there.”
The main issue for would-be tomato exporters is Queensland fruit fly, which leads to complications in negotiations with many countries.
Time to think laterally
Mr Jurgens raised another point, suggesting growers of fruit and vegetables in Bowen might need to consider switching products.
“A lot of the time we are passionate about the product that we do grow and we tend to want to push them onto other countries,” he said.
“[But] maybe it’s not part of their diet.
“Maybe what we have to look at is, we are farmers, we have [ideal] land and water and weather in Bowen, we have great conditions, and maybe we should be looking at products they actually consume over there and seeing whether we can export them over here.”