Crisp, sweet and juicy. Most people love munching on a fresh apple. If not every day, then at least once a week according to our partners at Apple and Pear Australia Ltd (APAL). Australians eat an average of 10 kilograms of the fruit a year, fuelling a $595 million local apple and pear industry.
In fact, this highly popular fruit is grown mostly for local consumers. Less than two per cent of Australia’s saleable apples make it to overseas markets. And apple exports have been declining over the years. If you go back to the 1980s and ’90s, exports made up about 30 per cent of Australia’s apple production.
There are different reasons for this including trade barriers, which have export requirements (like fumigation) that can impact on fruit quality.
But what if we could reboot Aussie apple exports?
Innovative technological developments, such as in-field traps and sensor-based systems, could once again boost opportunities for overseas markets.
Growing appetite to take our apples to the world
The industry aims to grow apple export volumes by 10 per cent within four years, targeting premium markets.
There’s an opportunity to leverage Australia’s reputation for premium, quality food so more of the world gets to taste our apples. It would be a win-win for growers and the national economy.
But exporting apples, and other fruits and vegetables, to premium overseas markets is not simple. Pests can pose a biosecurity risk and need to be effectively managed in a way that maintains fruit quality, shelf life and taste.
With co-investment from Hort Innovation and the Australian Government, our Trusted Agrifood Exports Mission is working with APAL to improve export pathways for growers. The Mission’s goal is to digitally transform Australia’s agrifood supply chain and grow export premiums across different commodities.
Not apples for apples in a competitive marketplace
Discerning consumers need a good reason to pay a premium, of course. Purchasing decisions are not just apples for apples. There is an apple for every taste and purpose: baking to snackables, sweet or tart, crisp or soft.
Different markets preference different attributes. And cost comes into decision-making as does quality. Sustainability credentials are also increasingly important.
You would be familiar with Australia’s most popular varieties like the Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Red Delicious and Fuji.
But in a competitive overseas market, how does Australia ensure its apples come out at the top of the tree? One of the keys is to guarantee safe and premium produce with high environmental standards.
For export, we tend to focus on varieties where Australia has global licensing rights. An exception is our Tasmanian-grown super sweet Fuji apples, which are loved by north-east Asian markets. We export top quality Australian grown Fujis there to meet consumer demand and to fill gaps in local growing seasons.
There’s an opportunity to grow export volumes to these markets if we can come up with more attractive ways for growers to manage pest risks safely.
Science behind safe export trade
Right now, methyl bromide fumigation is sometimes required to guarantee apple exports are free from pests like codling moth. Although it’s effective, for most growers this is a barrier to export as the process impacts product quality. Simply put, it’s not worth it for them.
A science-based ‘systems approach’ that uses in-field traps and packhouse scanning technologies, along with other measures, could hold the key. These technologies can provide data and evidence that crops are pest-free.
If growers and exporters can avoid fumigation and use targeted approaches to prove their pest-free status, export will be more appealing. It will have environmental benefits too. With our partners and in-field sites in Queensland and Tasmania, we are researching how apple growers can effectively use these new tools to prove their pest-free status.
Advanced risk models and analytical tools developed through the work will generate trusted data as the proof needed to support positive market access negotiations. We’ve also released complementary online tools, including our phytosanitary menu of measures. It sets out a range of options for producers and exporters and the scientific evidence required to support them.
And in a multi-year project supported by Hort Innovation, we’re continuing to work with industry and government to improve risk-based tools like this, making it easier for regulators, exporters and growers to put them into practice and be confident in the strength of our biosecurity measures.
Ultimately this will help to improve Australia’s access to premium overseas markets for apples, and open export growth pathways for other fruits and agrifood products too.