Berries all aiming for quality

TOP NOTCH: Growers and breeders of Australian berries are all aiming for premium quality, something global experts predict will underpin the future growth of the sector. AUSSIE berries are adhering to global advice that quality will underpin sales into the future.
Nanjing Night Net

The overarching theme to emerge from the Global Berry Congress 2016 held in Rotterdam, Netherlands last month was the need for breeders and growers to deliver a quality eating experience consumers will pay a premium for.

Australia’s berry industries appear to be on top of the suggestion already, although concerns linger over quality in years to come as production expand.

Australian Rubus Growers Association (ARGA) CEO Jonathan Eccles said Australia has been in a special position when it came to raspberries and blackberries.

“From our perspective, up until now we’ve been pretty lucky that consumer demand has been there, greater than production but that’s going to change,” he said.

He agreed that quality was king but said growers couldn’t afford to lose profit margins with the high labour costs an ever-present worry.

Mr Eccles said there was potential to highlight Australia’s quality to the rest of the world.

Berries are highly perishable which creates transport concerns, something where Australia could surprisingly have an advantage.

“We have some of the cheapest airfreight in the world,” he said.

“The major hurdle we have is quarantine due to Queensland fruit fly.”

Mr Eccles said he would like to see some funding go toward research and prevention of spotted wing drosophila which is not currently present in Australia.

“We import berries and that is monitored throughout the regulated pathways but it’s the unregulated pathways which have cause for concern,” he said.

He also said the different berry groups would do well to work together.

It’s an idea that Australian Blueberry Growers’ Association president Greg McCulloch has warmed to as well.

He said local blueberry growers have had the importance of high quality fruit drummed into them.

“That’s why we have such a high standing in Asia,” he said.

Mr McCulloch said he remembers 10 years ago when a representative from a large grocery chain in the United Kingdom declared Australia as having the best blueberries in the world.

“It’s always a major worry about the quality as we expand though,” Mr McCulloch said.

“I just hope we can keep that quality coming through as we head into the future.”

He said it was heartening to see Australian blueberries starting to head back into Japan after a six year absence due to changes in that country’s import laws.

Tempering that though was his disappointment at a 45 per cent tariff on Australian blueberries into South Korea, while Chile enjoys no tariffs and a reduced 20pc tariff for the Americans, according to Mr McCulloch.

“We will never sell into South Korea,” he said.

Quality and flavour remain the big ticket selling points for Australian strawberries, according to Strawberries Australia president, Sam Violi, Victoria.

The industry is even looking at the shape of the fruit and what is more appealing for consumers.

Mr Violi said the industry was tracking “pretty well” at the moment.

He said while Australia produces top tasting fruit, the weather made things tricky.

“Unfortunately we are very susceptible to rain damage and very hot days but we are working on varieties with beautiful flavour that are adaptable,” he said.

“But that’s not an easy task. So for growers, a bit of patience is required.”

He said marketing opportunities such as inviting celebrity chefs out to farms have been paying dividends recently in lifting the profile of the berry, and educating consumers what can be created with them.

Last week the Federal Government announced it was considering the importation of fresh strawberries from Korea.

Mr Violi said if the Korean strawberries were given the go-ahead, the impact on the local industry would hinge on that country’s growing season.

“It depends on what time of year they will be coming in. We already have strawberries on the shelves for 12 months- we can supply them all year round,” Mr Violi said.

“We don’t want to jeopardise the local industry.”

Korea has indicated that its strawberry peak season is January to March.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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