Avocado growers get support to access Japanese market as domestic prices fall
Justin Loffler has avoided dumping his avocados amid an oversupply of the fruit but his business has taken a hit from low prices.
Growers are keen to find new markets knowing more trees are about to mature and avocado prices dived under a $1 in stores last year.
While Avocados Australia continues its push to help growers in all states access the Japanese market, it's turning its focus to those in South Australia's Riverland.
Mr Loffler, a Waikerie-based grower, said he was hopeful that this support could turn around the industry's fortunes by levelling the supply and demand imbalance.
"If we can get avenues to take excess fruit in high crop years then we could probably even that price out," he said.
Treating the price pain
Mr Loffler said last season growers were paid about $3,000 for a 400-kilogram bin.
But in the most recent season, they received about $600 for the same amount.
"There's a point somewhere in between where we can supply a quality product at a decent price so we can drive the consumption of avocados, but we can also achieve decent returns that will keep growers in business," he said.
Avocados Australia chief executive John Tyas said with lots of new plantings in the past five years securing new markets was time critical.
In 2021, national avocado production was 90,000 tonnes.
"That's expected to almost double and grow to 170,000 tonnes by 2026," Mr Tyas said.
Opportunity across the ocean
The appetite for avocados in Japan is high but it relies on imports from other countries like Mexico.
Mr Tyas said Australian growers have an opportunity to present a premium product to Japanese buyers.
"Quality will be absolutely paramount," he said.
"But the market is not growing rapidly, so it will be mainly about taking some of that market share."
Mr Tyas said last year the industry exported a record 8,000 tonnes of avocados.
"Which isn't a lot but it's double what we did previously, however they were at really marginal prices," he said.
The industry body said orders from Japan for West Australian avocados were driving its push into the market.
"WA and the Riverland only got access in very late 2018 so there wasn't a lot sent and then COVID-19 disrupted things," Mr Tyas said.
"So, we only saw the first real consignments sent across this last six months or so.
"It wasn't big volumes, but the fruit was received really well from the exporters that did participate and they are planning to significantly increase their supply in the coming season."
Mr Loffler, who currently sells about 50,000 trays of avocados a year, said he would need to boost his production for the export opportunity to be worthwhile.
"For smaller operators, we've got to get to a size and a scale where we can justify doing it," he said.
"Particularly when the returns that we see aren't necessarily higher than what we can achieve in the Australian market."
Currently only regions free of Queensland fruit fly — WA, Tasmania and the Riverland — can access the Japanese market.
Mr Tyas said that meant Australian growers could only supply avocados for effectively half the year.
"We're really hoping we can get the east coast onto that protocol so we can send our avocados for the whole 12 months," he said.
Japan requires imports to meet a protocol called "conditional non-host".
Mr Tyas said this meant harvesting fruit before it ripened, cold storing and then packing it securely, such as with a pallet shroud.
"The beauty of that protocol is that it doesn't require any actual treatment to the fruit, it's just a procedure.
"It's not too onerous but obviously some training will be required."
With fruit fly outbreaks in parts of the Riverland, Mr Loffler said he welcomed a review of the protocol.
"It's probably not a good situation to have an export market that's open one week and closed the next because someone finds a fruit fly somewhere," he said.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said discussions had begun with the Japanese government on reviewing restrictions for several horticultural crops.
Avocados Australia has contributed data to the federal government's presentation.
"We're very hopeful that they will be able to negotiate access for the whole country," Mr Tyas said.
Sorce from: Eliza Berlage. (April 6, 2022). Avocado growers get support to access Japanese market as domestic prices fall. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2022-04-06/avocado-growers-riverland-to-export-to-japan/100966608