Table grape growers across the Sunraysia region are expecting a bumper 2022 season and demand from overseas customers is sky-high.
Family growers like Rocky Mammone and Tim Milner are reaping the rewards of long-time relationships with Asian buyers.
While China remains a key market for both growers, they are also expanding and diversifying into other countries, thanks to support from Austrade’s Agribusiness Expansion Initiative.
Grape expectations for exports
Australia’s table grape exports were worth more than $660 million in 2021. There are great expectations for an even more valuable 2022 harvest.
The industry employs – directly and indirectly – tens of thousands of permanent and temporary workers. It is a major contributor to the national, NSW and Victorian economies.
Harvest has been underway since mid-January.
Road-trains arrive daily in Sunraysia to load the export-quality fruit, primarily the ruby-coloured Crimson variety. These are mostly bound for the busy docks of mainland China.
China now accounts for more than half of the region’s 220,000-tonne export crop. Demand – and prices – for the Australian fruit remain high.
China remains a pivotal market
On a warm morning in February, on a stretch of rural idyll in Irymple, Victoria, third-generation table grape grower Rocky Mammone walks the length of his vines.
He is closely followed by a videographer. Mammone is the one of the stars of Austrade’s ‘With us’ marketing campaign. The campaign promotes and connects international buyers with Australia’s abundance of clean, green, safe and sustainable agricultural produce. The promotional video will be rolled out in priority markets across ASEAN in the coming weeks.
Despite the turbulence of the past two years, China remains a strong market for Mammone.
“We are still shipping every day to China,” says Mammone. “We have developed really good long-term relationships and friendships with our customers over more than 10 years and they remain solid.”
Mammone says the sheer size and relative stability of the Chinese market allows growers to grow, invest and diversify to new markets. Besides China, he exports to Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and the Middle East.
Lessons learned from exporting to China
Tim Milner is a fourth-generation table grape grower. His family has been exporting grapes to China for almost a decade. He has a positive and beneficial relationship with his Chinese buyer. He met his buyer during a visit to Sunraysia by a Chinese delegation in 2015.
Milner says he has learned immeasurable lessons during his time exporting to the world’s largest market.
“We have spent a lot of time learning and understanding what buyers and consumers in China want,” he says. “We have worked closely with our buyer to refine our presentation and taste.
“It has given us a better understanding of the needs and wants of such an important market. In turn, it has improved the quality of our fruit and our ways of growing and exporting.”
Challenges in the industry have been mostly pandemic-related.
Complex freight delays compounded by lockdowns across Asia presented many headaches. These problems were alleviated, in part, by assistance from the International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM). IFAM is a temporary, targeted, emergency support measure put in place by the Australian Government to keep global air links open in response to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $72.7 million Agribusiness Expansion Initiative has also been critical in helping exporters maintain their relationships with buyers.
The program supports Australian agricultural exporters seeking to diversify their market base while continuing to grow sales in existing markets.