Fruit news: imports, exports & e-tongues

21st May 2021 | Eativity editors

A university student’s research project examining blueberry quality is using some interesting new technology, citrus growers have expressed serious concerns about a proposed new import agreement, the banana industry has acknowledged the work of its best and brightest and new figures show that Tasmanian cherries are making some serious waves overseas. Check out some of the latest news from the Australian fruit industry below.

Check out these beauties from Black Devil Tasmanian Cherries.

Tasmanian cherry exports up 40 percent

The latest figures are in, and they show that Tasmanian cherry exports in the 2020/21 season were up 40 percent on the previous year, and were the second largest on record.

“For the Tasmanian cherry industry to perform so strongly during the pandemic is a great credit to the many years of hard work by our growers,” says Fruit Growers Tasmania CEO Peter Cornish. “Despite challenges from a shortage of workers, meeting COVID-19 requirements and restricted air freight availability, a 40 percent increase is a tremendous outcome for the industry and the Tasmanian agriculture sector.”

Tasmania cherries lead exports nationally, with 51 percent of Australian cherry exports coming from the small state – more than all the other states put together.

Worth $43.6 million to the economy, the largest market for Tasmanian cherries by volume and value is Hong Kong. This is followed by Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Thailand.

“Our top three markets saw strong growth, increasing by more than 50 percent,” Cornish says. “Dedication to quality by our growers, with a longer growing season in the cleanest air and healthiest soils in the world, is a key reason why our cherries are in such demand.”

Importing limes from Mexico could put Aussie growers’ livelihoods at risk, in more ways than one.

Proposed lime imports an unacceptable biosecurity risk

Officers from the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment held a meeting in Queensland yesterday to discuss an import risk assessment that proposes to allow lime imports from Mexico, the world’s largest lime producer.

The meeting was attended by more than 50 growers from the district who plan to take their concerns to Queensland Agriculture Minister Keith Furner and Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. Many growers shared their concerns that allowing imports of Mexican limes would impact profitability of their farms at a time when labour was difficult to access and when they were still recovering from impacts of the pandemic.

Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock has also expressed his concerns that a number of serious pests had not been adequately assessed in the import risk assessment.

“Some of those pests have the potential to transmit serious plant diseases into Australia,” he says. “My greatest concern is the lack of scientific enquiry around the recent outbreak of citrus canker [a serious bacterial disease of citrus trees] in Mexico. Australia was only recently declared free from citrus canker following an outbreak in 2018.

Australia produces 30,000 tonnes of limes a year, with 28,000 tonnes produced in Far North Queensland. Lemons and limes are the primary source of income for most growers in the region, who are already facing lower prices, as supply is currently outstripping demand.

Outback Wrangler star Matt Wright presented the Inderbitzins with their award.

Banana industry’s best

The banana industry celebrated the work of five of its best at a gala event in Cairns last week. The Awards of Honour are given out every two years as part of the Australian Banana Industry Congress. This year, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council also introduced the Future Farming Award to recognise the environmental work being undertaken by growers.

Award of Honour: Peter and Franziska Inderbitzin

Peter and Franziska Inderbitzin are innovative, sustainable growers who, to this day, are the only banana farmers in Australia to utilise the South American cableway system – a mechanism designed to transport large numbers of bananas from plantations to processing plants. They were also among the first to welcome overseas workers through the Pacific Labour Scheme and have led the way in using recycled organic waste for compost on-farm.

Award of Honour: Dennis Howe

In 1995, Howe became the first person to plant Cavendish bananas in Walkamin on the Atherton Tablelands – an area then believed to be too cold for anything other than Lady Fingers. He’s now the country’s second largest producer of Cavendish bananas and employs some 500 people around the Mareeba and Atherton regions.

Wright with Gavin Devaney, Future Farming Award winner.

Award of Honour: Jeff Daniells

Research horticulturalist Jeff Daniells has travelled extensively to identify disease-resistant banana varieties for Australia and Pacific nations. He’s developed scientific relationships that have greatly benefited the Australian banana industry. Daniells is currently leading the importation and screening of new varieties under the Banana Plant Protection Program.

Future Farming Award: Gavin Devaney

Devaney has converted a former cane paddock into a best practice banana farm with innovative runoff solutions. In doing so, he’s significantly improved the farm’s layout and reduced its environmental impact while maintaining productivity and profitability. He has made land available to trial new methods on-farm, and also participates in the Smart Farms project, which uses remote sensing to measure aspects of best management practice.

Sarah McKay is keen to pursue a career in horticulture.

Research maps blueberry quality after harvest

An electronic tongue is one of the tools being used as part of an honours student’s research project looking at the impact of storage conditions on the quality of blueberries.

Sarah McKay, who’s the 2021 recipient of the Costa Honours Scholarship in Agricultural Science, is investigating post-harvest storage conditions and the influence this has on key quality characteristics of blueberries, such as taste, texture, colour and aroma.

These characteristics are tested using an electronic tongue – known as an “e-tongue” – as well as a number of other instrumental methods and a human taste panel for comparison.

“The e-tongue is technology that has not been used extensively on fresh fruit produce, especially blueberries, so this is a major focus for my project,” says McKay, who is studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with Honours through the University of Tasmania.

The results from McKay’s instrumental methods, along with a human taste-testing panel, will help to map consumer buying habits based on quality characteristics.