Commitment to quality is the key to Australian cherries in Asia
If Australian cherries must maintain their presence in the high-end segment of Asian markets, producers must then improve the quality of the fruit. This is the perspective of 2019 Nuffield scholar, Jake Newnham.
Newnham, a cherry and apricot grower from the Coal River Valley of Tasmania, traveled to Chile, the United States, Canada and New Zealand to gain a better understanding of how each country approached their cherry production. .
âOver the past four years, Chile has grown from 100,000 tonnes of cherries to over 300,000 tonnes, while Australia produces around 20,000 tonnes,â Newnham said.
âA few years ago Chilean returns were around AU $ 8 / kg while ours was AU $ 18 / kg, but it is essential that we improve the quality further if we are to stay at the forefront of the market. “, he added.
Australia’s ability to quickly and efficiently transport air cargo to Asian markets is an advantage over the 20-day sea voyage required to Chile, but Covid-19 has also restricted flights and forced some local producers to ship produced during the summer.
The Nuffield Fellowship has been supported by Woolworths and in his report ‘Improving the Quality of Sweet Cherries – Harvesting, Cold Chain Management and Packaging to Optimize Fruit Quality and Extend Shelf Life’, Newnham identified three key challenges facing the industry.
“[We must] reduce the number of times a fruit is handled, âhe explained. “[Itâs important to] introduce the cherries into the cold chain as soon as possible, [as well as] extend shelf life with ventilated boxes that allow forced air cooling. “
Properly trained workers who harvest quickly and efficiently when temperatures are colder help reduce potential damage, as does transporting the cherries quickly to hydrostatic coolers that water the fruits in chilled water and lower their core temperature.
Newnham and his father installed a forced air cooler (FA) in their packing plant and move the fruit through chilled water channels, which keep the fruit at around 8 degrees as it moves along the line. packing.
In the FA cooling chamber, the core temperature of the cherries is reduced to 1 to 2 degrees as air is drawn through specially designed ventilated boxes, which must pass biosecurity regulations to be used in transit from Tasmania.
âThe traditional boxes we used for the cherries didn’t allow air circulation, but all the major production areas I visited overseas were using FA cooling through ventilated containers to improve life. for storing cherries. While this doesn’t directly improve yields, the biggest benefit is the ability to hold fruit and target periods of higher demand, âNewnham said.
Cherry growers plan to build a second FA cooling chamber in time for the 2021 harvest and plan to replace their mechanical grader after Newnham saw the efficiency of optical graders at work in overseas packaging lines.
While 2020 was a ‘reasonable’ season and the farm produced 115 tonnes of cherries, Newnham said Covid-19 presented challenges for fruit exports as passenger planes were grounded and freight flights charters became the only option.
âThe new cooling option meant our cherries could handle a 10-12 day sea trip, but we chose to send larger shipments via charter flights to Vietnam and they were really happy with the quality. A big selling point for our fruits abroad is that they are freshly picked and in the markets in a few days, âhe said.
Newnham paid tribute to the Nuffield Scholarship by saying, âI am so grateful to have been able to see how other cherry growers operate in the real world rather than just learning more about the industry through online research and conferences. â
Nuffield Australia awards up to 20 scholarships each year, with applications now open for 2022.