Berry good gain for Aussies
THREE hundred tonnes of Corindi blueberries destined for Japan will pour onto the domestic market after Japan barred the door to the Australian berry fruit this month.
Concern about Mediterranean fruit fly and Queensland fruit fly has seen Japan ban the importation of Australian blueberries following 13 years of pest-free exports of blueberries from Corindi to the island nation which had seen Berry Exchange maintain a stranglehold on the Japanese market.
The general manager of Berry Exchange, Peter McPherson, said a combination of a late crop, a compressed harvest and the loss of the Japanese market meant that much more fruit than usual would land on supermarket shelves in Australia from October to January.
"The Japanese authorities saw fit to close a loophole," Mr McPherson said.
"We have had a 13-year free run with no pest detections, but we were getting (the fruit) in through a technicality.
"They have closed the door, but they are working with us - our customers in Japan are absolutely annoyed, too, because we had the best reputation for quality."
He said Berry Exchange, Biosecurity Australia and Japanese authorities were looking at two treatments - fumigation and cold sterilisation, but this process could take 12 or 18 months.
They were also looking for new markets in China and South-East Asia and had just begun sending 2011 fruit to England's Marks & Spencer chain.
Mr McPherson said the high Australian dollar was "bloody killing us" as the big grower moves into picking a harvest which it is hoped will equal or exceed last year's record of just under 2000 tonnes of blueberries, 20% of it destined for export.
He said wet weather during the past 12 months, combined with consistently cold nights in June at the time of pollination and flower set for blueberries, had slowed development of the fruit.
"It has just been one of those years when nature works against us," he said.
Bad news for Berry Exchange is good news for blueberry consumers, with lower prices for good-quality fruit expected to emerge in the next two to three weeks and prices predicted to plunge to normal cheap Christmas price levels in October.
The giant grower will be doing its best to maximise consumption of the berries with a promotional campaign from October through to January, which will include local supermarkets.
Mr McPherson said there was also a big opportunity for import replacement, with Australia currently importing thousands of tonnes of frozen blueberries annually from Chile and the USA.
The ill wind that is seeing job vacancies dwindle elsewhere is also swelling the staff numbers at Corindi's Berry Exchange.
Mr McPherson said they had opened their books to pickers in mid-August and within four weeks had 4000 names listed, so willing hands to bring in the harvest was no problem.