Stone fruit production in Australia is forecast to increase in marketing year (MY) 2021/22, following an MY 2020/21 season that was impacted by a shortage of labour supply at harvest and export freight logistics challenges borne about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cherry production is forecast to increase by 11 per cent, and peaches and nectarines by five per cent.
Increases in production coupled with an expectation of a moderate improvement in labour availability for harvest, and a slight easing of export freight challenges, are anticipated to increase exports of cherries by 17 per cent and 15 per cent for peaches and nectarines.
The labour and export freight challenges are expected to impact the forecast MY 2021/22 season. However, these impacts are expected to be lessened by a modest degree with the expectation that by late 2021 COVID-19 vaccination rates in Australia will be much improved and reduce restrictions domestically and possibly for international travellers.
Increases in production coupled with an expectation of a moderate improvement in labour availability for harvest, and a slight easing of export freight challenges, are anticipated to increase exports of cherries by 17 per cent and 15 per cent for peaches and nectarines. The cherry industry is hopeful of continuing the federal government International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) program to secure air freight for export, as was the case in MY 2020/21.
This high-value horticultural product was able to cope with air freight costs at over double the pre-pandemic rate and increase the export volume in MY 2020/21. The trend is expected to continue in the forecast year. On the other hand, for peaches, which are lower value than cherries and dependent upon air freight, exports are anticipated to remain low in the forecast year after a drop of 36 per cent in the MY 2020/21 season.
Nectarine exports in the forecast year are expected to increase moderately after suffering only a moderate five per cent decline from the prior year. Nectarine exporters had adjusted to the export freight challenges in MY 2020/21 by focusing on increasing the use of sea freight from around 50 per cent of total exports in the prior years to 75 per cent, notwithstanding the continued challenges of sourcing refrigerated containers for sea freight and their further increased cost in recent months, overall peach and nectarine exports are forecast to rise with a particular focus on nectarines via sea freight.
Caroline Pisciuneri was an expert panellist at a Farm Writers Association luncheon and spoke on the challenges and opportunities of creating resilient supply chains. She