09/11/2011 - 10:03

Horticulture producers step up export drive

09/11/2011 - 10:03

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Horticulture producers step up export drive

THE local horticulture sector is being urged to evaluate export opportunities after two major players secured contracts with Singapore’s largest supermarket group. 

The state’s two largest carrot producers – Sumich and Center West Exports – signed MOUs to supply carrots to NTUC FairPrice Cooperative for a two-year period. 

FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng said the company chose to source vegetables from Western Australia due to the state’s high food safety standards and stable price regime.

“These MoUs reinforce that WA is a reliable supplier of horticulture products. Such partnership agreements allow FairPrice to further diversify our food sources while the WA industry benefits from sustained demand,” Mr Seah said.

Sumich runs the largest single carrot growing and packing enterprise in Australia, producing about 50,000 tonnes per year. 

Sumich managing director Nick Tana said the signing of the MOU reinforced the fact that supermarket chains were looking to lock up long-term supply arrangements with secure markets.

“The supermarkets overseas have always been looking for certainty in terms of security and supply from well-established horticulturalists,” Mr Tana told WA Business News

“What this does is give local producers hope, and shows that there is business to be done; and that’s the sort of arrangement the grower needs to be looking for.”

Centre West, which has more than 400 hectares of carrots under irrigation 100 kilometres north of Perth, exports more than 25,000t of carrots to the Middle East, Hong Kong and the Maldives each year. 

Despite the high Australian dollar, Centre West managing director Frank Tedesco said demand for WA produce from overseas was as strong as ever.

“While the Australian dollar has had an impact on the export market, if you can maintain that quality there is always a demand,” he said. 

“It’s all about consistency and quality, if you can’t offer that you will have China competing and offering a lower price.”

Vegetable Growers of WA chief executive Jim Turley said it wasn’t just large producers who could take advantage of the growing demand.

“Even the smaller producers can take advantage of the export markets,” he said.

“On their own they may have some difficulties, but some growers are coming together and forming co-ops and business groups and have been successful in selling their product overseas.”

However, Mr Turley said the state government had to do more to ensure the longevity of local producers by providing concessions on utility costs and making labelling laws more prescriptive. 

“Our labelling laws don’t represent where vegetables are grown … labelling in supermarkets doesn’t tell the truth and that is extremely disappointing for us,” he said. 

“But the biggest problem we’ve got in WA are our costs, spiralling energy costs and labor and chemical costs are having a devastating effect on growers’ sustainability.” 

Mr Tana said the state government should be doing more to establish horticultural precincts, secure water supply and rectify uncertain zoning requirements.

“The government has to start by making areas available for horticulturalists where growers are able to grow 12 months a year, so that means we need these precincts in different climatic regions,” he said.

“But it’s more than just granting more land, it’s about security of water and infrastructure; you wouldn’t buy a commercial or industrial property if you knew they could change the zoning on you, the same applies to horticulturalists.”

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