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By  Emily Lehmann 17 July 2023 3 min read

Key points

  • We love our fresh apples, with 84 per cent of Australian households regularly buying apples.
  • The local apple industry is keen to grow our international exports by 10 per cent by 2027.
  • Combining in-field traps and sensor-based systems for pest management could effectively reduce biosecurity risks and grow export trade for apples.

Rebooting Aussie apple exports to benefit the national economy.

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. 

[00:00 – 00:04: map of Australia featuring icons of different agrifood products]

Australian farmers produce premium, quality food.

[00:05 – 00:08: Farmer picking red apple from tree]

Take our apples, for example.

[00:09 – 00:13: Trees change from green to different shades of orange]

Australian apples come in many varieties and are picked from February to May to be exported to different markets.

[00:14 – 00:20 Rows of apples on grocery shelves depicting different prices, zooms to close up of an apple with an Australian label on it]

But, it’s estimated there are around 7500 apple varieties around the world.

[00:20 – 00:25 - Apples drop into a box that says ‘apples export’ with an Australian label on it]

So how do we make our apples stand out? That’s where CSIRO’s role in the Trusted Agrifood Exports Mission comes in.

[00:26 – 00:31 – The box lid closes and many more export boxes drop into rows. Lights turn on putting the boxes under spotlight.]

The mission is focused on making export market access and trade easier for apples, and Australia’s agriculture and food industry as a whole.

[00:32 – 00:36  Standing in-front of the boxes for export, an auditor checks off list on a tablet device.]

To negotiate market access we need scientific evidence to show that our apples are safe and pest and disease free.

[00:46 – 00:53 – green check marks appear on each box]

So, technologies are being developed to provide stronger evidence for how Australia’s apple industry manages biosecurity.

[00:54 – 1:02 –  A spinning globe enters the screen, with boxes appearing to be moved from one country to another, the words ‘safety, quality, environmental, biosecurity’ appear next to the globe]

The Australian food brand is highly regarded because we have strong regulations around safety, quality, environmental and biosecurity standards.

[01:03 – 01:08 – Dollar signs appear on spinning globe]

But these impose costs that limit our competitiveness.

[01:09 – 01:17] Screen changes to scene with boxes on conveyor belt, with a person monitoring them via a screen and touchpad]

To streamline the process, new digital platforms will automate critical compliance checks using verified real time data.

[01:18 – 01:24: close up of box being scanned. As box is scanned, it becomes transparent revealing the apples and icons depicting that no fruit flies are detected in the package]

This includes embedding artificial intelligence tools into optical scanners to check the fruit and provide assurance that apples are pest free.

[01:25 – 01:32:  moves to box on a conveyor belt. Hand holding a device scans box QR code]

[01:33 - 01:39:  vision changes to close up map of east coast of Australia with an apple tree and icon depicting information and charts about the apple]

Despite the complexity of the supply chain, data can be checked at any point, and by using the apple itself, we will be able to compare against regional fingerprints, so that anyone can validate where and how it was grown.

[01:43 – 01:49: Scene returns to close up of apples in a grocery aisle, priced at $4.99. A hand reaches and picks up one of the apples]

This provides assurance that labels and digital information systems are accurate and gives consumers greater trust in the product.

[01:50 - 01:56: Person holding apple takes a bite and chews.

With our partners at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and Meat & Livestock Australia, the Trusted Agrifood Exports Mission is improving market access, streamlining compliance and enabling verifiable products to increase the value of all of Australia’s food exports, not just apples.

[01:57 – 02:17: Person places the bitten apple on a plate on a dinner table. Screen shot pans out and a plate of bananas, bowl of porridge, plate of steak and wine and glasses appear on the table.]

That’s a great thing for Australia’s agriculture and food industry, regulators and economy. 

[02:18 – 02:22: CSIRO logo and text ‘Australia’s national science agency’ appear on screen]

The Mission is digitally transforming Australia's agrifood supply chain and grow export premiums across commodities.

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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.


Codling moth is a major pest in agriculture, particularly in apple and pear orchards.

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. 

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