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Thursday 3 November 2022

Cherry Christmas? Not for everbody

Australia's cherry industry is in a positive growth phase, but current wet weather threatens the upcoming harvest and may limit Christmas supply.

Growing consumer appetite for the fruit locally and in export markets is a huge positive, Rabobank says in a new industry report.

But three consecutive La Nina weather events have taken their toll on Australia’s cherry production, with continuing wet conditions expected to impact the outlook for the coming harvest.

This will not only weigh on grower returns, but could also affect the availability, quality and price of this summer and festive fruit favourite for Australian consumers, the specialist agribusiness bank says.

In the report Southern Hemisphere Cherries, Growing Exports and Challenges, Rabobank says Australia’s sweet cherry sector has been in a growth phase for the past four years, with more than 450,000 additional cherry trees reaching bearing age since 2018.

Despite this growth in plantings, sweet cherry production and export volumes “continue to be affected by three consecutive La Nina weather events,” the bank says.

This impact was evident last season, says report co-author RaboResearch associate analyst Pia Piggott, with the industry estimating that Australia’s total cherry production for 2021-22 was down 15% on the previous year, at 17,000 tonnes.

Total Australian cherry volumes to export markets - which require the highest-quality premium fruit - decreased 20% on the previous year.

Piggott said export markets are particularly important for Australia’s cherry industry, due to “higher unit value” obtainable for exported fruit.

“Exports account for approximately 25% of the Australian cherry industry’s sales volumes, but almost 40% of sale value,” she said.

“So lower volumes of high-quality cherries suitable for export markets - along with outbound airfreight rates remaining high - means margins will be challenged for the sector this coming season.”

Piggott said longer-term demand for high-quality cherries as prized fruit in Asia, and in the domestic Australian market - together with healthy lifestyle trends - will support growth opportunities in the Australian cherry industry.

“Australian cherries remain competitive in the export market, although production risks, elevated input cost and labour challenges persist for growers,” she said.

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