Australia's peak berry industry body says funding to help grow export potential in overseas markets is a welcome boost, after what has been some challenging times.
This month, Berries Australia received $239,000 from the Federal Government under an Agricultural Trade and Market Access Cooperation grant, to help give berry producers the tools needed to expand into export markets.
"We are very pleased to be a recipient of the ATMAC grant to support industry with existing markets," Berries Australia Executive Director Rachel Mackenzie said. "Whilst a big part of our objectives for the next 20 years is to increase exports by getting new market access, it is also important not to forget our existing markets. This particular grant will help support us to get the most out of existing markets such as Singapore, India, Thailand and UAE. So, we are very thankful to Minister Littleproud for the support, and we are looking forward to creating some great opportunities for our growers."
According to the Horticulture Statistics Handbook, compiled by Hort Innovation, in the year ending June 2020, 5,084 tonnes ($42million) of berries were exported from Australia - 4,678 tonnes ($33.4million) were strawberries and 393 tonnes ($8.4million) were blueberries. Only 13 tonnes ($200,000) of rubus berries were exported, which included raspberries, blackberries and other berries such as boysenberries and silvanberries.
"This project targets the whole berry category, but mainly focusing on strawberries and blueberries," Ms Mackenzie said. "I think one of the key things for all growers is that the more product we can get out of the domestic market (to prevent oversupply), the better it is for everyone. It really is a win-win for the whole industry. Overseas markets are a key part of our growth strategy over the next couple of years. We are reaching the point of equilibrium with the domestic market, so obviously we are doing things at home like marketing programs and encouraging consumers to enjoy Australia's fresh berries. But this grant enables us to take advantage of existing export opportunities."
Ms Mackenzie added that Australia has a highly-valued premium product when it comes to berries.
"We have a number of independent programs here that have been breeding for many years and in the process have got berries varieties that are highly sought after," she said. "My opinion is that they are the best in the world, but I believe that is supported by the interest that overseas buyers and consumers take in our berries. There is a lot of interest from overseas buyers, but export is not a fast or easy task. We have to gain market access and then we have to make sure the buyers understand what they are getting for their money, also we need to be aware of other (berry producing) countries who want to take advantage of those markets as well. So, we need to gain the edge, and this grant will really help us."
Production-wise, Berries Australia admits it has been a challenging season for growers, due to the weather and also impacts from COVID-19, such as supply chain disruptions and labour issues. She says demand and quality remain strong, but input costs are rising which is making things quite difficult.
"It's been a quiet period for blueberries, although now we have year-round production," Ms Mackenzie said. "It's been a challenging season in the Coffs Harbour region (NSW) over the summer, because of all the implications of COVID plus general workforce issues that we have experienced for a number of years. This was exacerbated by some weather issues. In terms of strawberries, COVID has created challenges with the workforce both on-farm and in the supply chain. All these issues have had an impact on the cost of production and have been quite stressful for our growers - but in terms of the quality, it's as good as ever. Our growers are doing a good job in challenging situations, so grants such as these are encouraging - I'd like to thank the Federal Government's Agriculture Minister David Littleproud for supporting our industry - and giving our growers light at the end of the tunnel."