CEO Report – Harvest closes as we await Hort Award changes

At the time of writing this, the harvest is drawing to a close and it is always a welcome relief to get another crop off the trees and safely into storage.

It has been a tough year for South Australian growers in particular and it is good to hear that the updated, more positive, Hailstorm Heroes campaign has attracted good local support for hail-affected fruit.

Anecdotally growers nationally are reporting good fruit quality, but lower harvest volumes than anticipated. Despite this and forecasts of lower apple volumes this year, pricing continues to be disappointingly weak putting pressure on orchard businesses.

We know growers cannot continue to produce fruit at unsustainable wholesale prices and we continue to urge marketers and retailers to offer fair and sustainable pricing to ensure growers can continue to offer consumers quality, locally-produced apples and pears into the future.

Reinforcing this view is new independent market research, commissioned by APAL to better understand the lack of growth in apple and pear consumption. Early indications from focus groups forming part of this research confirm our belief that it is fruit quality, first and foremost, that is the driver of purchase, with price a secondary consideration.

Premium quality fruit and brands will be the cornerstone of the industry strategy to expand exports, and growers can expect to see more information on building export readiness later this year.

Pear exports were up significantly in the March quarter compared to the previous year which is critical for managing sales volumes throughout the 2018 season. This growth has come from both traditional export markets, reversing a downward trend and restoring exports to long term averages, and emerging markets. APAL is actively working with pear growers to proactively create and build new export markets for pears.

The apple export season is only just getting underway but early indications are that export programs are being well supported.

I attended the Fruit Growers Tasmania conference in May and it was impressive to hear how well industry and Government had worked together to rapidly respond to the detection of Queensland Fruit Fly (Qfly) in the north of the state, isolate it and move to eradication, with no detections since early April.

The isolated detections of Qfly in Tasmania are a reminder tous all of the critical importance of biosecurity in maintaining export market access. Even if you don’t export, the closure of export markets could result in fruit destined for export being diverted to domestic markets potentially having a much broader impact. Bringing Qfly under control should be a priority for all growers, regardless of their market.

The Fair Work Commission is currently finalising changes to employee arrangements within the Horticulture Award. The Commission’s provisional view is overtime will be introduced to the arrangements for casual employees.

Whilst the Commission’s review of casual workers’ access to overtime does not impact the piece work calculation, the likely impact is that growers will be unlikely to offer casuals extra hours that trigger overtime payments (i.e. casuals working greater than 304 hours over an eight-week period as proposed in the Commission’s provisional view), which will potentially exacerbate an existing labour shortage issue.

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) through the Horticultural Council (which includes APAL) will continue to work with Government and the Fair Work Commission to ensure they understand what is fair and workable for growers.

APAL is also working with NFF towards an agricultural visa to help address the labour shortage challenges. The Federal Government’s Seasonal Worker incentive trial (aimed at bringing unemployed workers into seasonal work) has fallen well short of its targets so we must work on the alternatives.

Few have worked harder for horticulture than Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd, whose imminent retirement from the role will mark the end of over a decade guiding the research
and development body and overseeing its transformation to give growers a much more direct involvement in how their levies are invested.

John has been a tremendous supporter of the apple and pear industry and a proactive leader. On behalf of APAL I would like to thank him for his tireless efforts on behalf of growers and wish him all the best for the future.

I look forward to meeting you at Hort Connections.

By |June 25th, 2018|CEO report|

About the Author:

CEO, Apple and Pear Australia Ltd phil@apal.org.au
03 9329 3511