South Australia is the only mainland Australian state that is free of fruit flies. Its Riverland region is renowned for producing some of the world’s highest-quality table oranges.
The Chinese government had previously required all Australian oranges to undergo rigorous temperature and loading protocols, which would add about A$200 (US$152) a ton to export costs.
The changes come at an opportune time, as Australian citrus exports to China are increasing, and are set to reach a record of 85,000 tons in 2017.
Impi Citrus exports more than 1,000 tonnes of navel oranges from its Riverland packing plant in Renmark to Asia each year, with Japan its biggest international market.
Previously, the company’s orders for China had to be sent to a specialist facility in Victoria to be chilled before being loaded into a container, where the oranges would be kept at 3C for 21 days—adding an additional A$5,000 to the cost of a 25-ton container. The new certification will also cut shipping time to about 14 days.
Impi's marketing manager Ben Cant said the pest-free certification had been a massive win for Riverland exporters and gave them a competitive price and timing edge over Australian producers in other regions.
“Potentially it means that the stock we land in China will be a week younger, and it also means we are able to react to the market with a lot more flexibility because we’re not chilling fruit down,” Cant said.
In 2016, Australia was the world’s eighth-biggest orange exporter behind Spain, America, South Africa and Egypt. South Australia alone exported citrus worth A$102m in 2015-16, up from A$71m the previous year.
“The export demand is so strong that it has underpinned domestic pricing and our returns have been very good,” Cant said.
“Citrus is very buoyant financially at the moment—there’s a lot of investment going on to increase production to meet export demand.”
South Australian agriculture, food and fisheries minister Leon Bignell said the announcement that China had agreed to amend its import conditions for Riverland citrus was the result of several years of negotiations.
“This is outstanding news for the Riverland, and will be instrumental in opening up further export opportunities for the region,” he said.
“It’s fantastic to see years of diplomatic negotiations come to fruition, with all produce from the Riverland now recognised as pest-free.”