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WA Avocado growers looking forward to developing market in Japan

A Western Australian avocado packer has welcomed new market access to Japan, saying it will be needed to help ensure growers get a good price for their produce into the future.

Last week, the Australian government reached a new protocol agreement for Hass avocados with Japan, and will be calling for applications for accreditation for growers in the coming weeks. Managing Director of Karri Country Produce, Jennie Franceschi, says at the current rate of industry expansion producers will need new markets like this to develop, with a major increase in volume forecast for coming years.

"It's a positive step as there are a lot of trees in the ground and production in Australia is going to be increasing significantly," she said. "So the figures I have been given by industry, there are 30 per cent of trees not producing and 20 per cent of trees that are producing, but not in full production. So that means half the trees in the ground are either not producing or under producing. I always think it's important to have many market distribution channels."

She praised the Australian Government for getting this access, saying the more supply channels available means more diversity and therefore more stability. Ms Franceschi adds that prices are "not exciting" for growers at the moment due to the amount of fruit on the market.

"The industry as a whole is under a bit of pressure at the moment," Ms Franceschi said. "We haven't seen these sort of returns in around five years. I think it's just getting people to eat them. There have been some very good sales, but it just hasn't encouraged more people to buy. So it's not really price, and I am not sure why people are not buying. There are good volumes around and very good quality. So, if you look at the current pricing in Australia, we will be very effective up there (in Japan)."

Initially the opportunity will only be available to fruit fly free areas, such as Western Australia, Riverland (South Australia) and Tasmania, and Ms Franceschi admits there may not be huge number of volumes at first, as growers get an understanding of the market.

"I don't think there will be huge quantities, but I will definitely be putting some fruit up there," she said. "Just to understand the lay of the land, as I think that's important to do that and learn. I have worked with the Japanese lately and I have found them to be honourable. They are hard, like you've got to go through a process, but they are very honourable. So I think it's very promising."

Among Australia's advantages is the proximity to Asia, meaning the fruit can get to market fairly quickly as well as Australia's clean and green image. This has put the produce high on the list for many Asian countries, according to Ms Franceschi, who conducted her own taste testing while recently in Malaysia.

"They had some fruit from other countries, as well as fruit from Australia - not Western Australian, but East Coast fruit," Ms Franceschi said. "We bought some from other countries, because we wanted to understand why our fruit was retailing for more, which was quite a premium over these other countries. I wanted to see if there was a legitimate reason for this. But when we cut the fruit there wasn't a very good seed in one, and the flavour wasn't the same. So everyone who tried it, all picked the Aussie avocado as being of a superior flavour and there was also more flesh."

The Hass season is underway in the east but the west is still a few months away. The last estimates put the Western Australian crop at a similar level as last season, but with winter to get through, those numbers are expected to firm up at a later date.

For more information:
Jennie Franceschi
Karri Country Produce
Phone: +61 8 9777 2246
Publication date: 5/31/2018
Author: Matthew Russell
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