Tasmania’s bountiful supplies of fruit are renowned for their delicious flavour and are recognised by food connoisseurs across the world.
Our mild temperate maritime climate provides the ideal environment for slow maturation and flavour development. The state’s topography and geography allows for niche micro-climates throughout the state and provides a diversity of produce to be harvested from early summer through to late autumn.
The fruit industry in Tasmania is one of the oldest and has shaped the future of many regions including the Huon Valley and Tamar Valley. Today the Tasmanian fruit industry continues to expand and is focused on providing premium quality fruit to national and overseas markets.
The apple industry in Tasmania is experiencing a period of rationalisation and diversification. Increasing production costs have resulted in some fruit growers transitioning away from apples and diversifying into other stone fruit or berry production. The pome fruit sub sector still provides an important contribution to the Tasmanian economy, with a 2010–11 farm-gate value of $32.2 million. Apple and cherry production is often conducted on the same farm, as it allows for extended use of infrastructure, and producers are able to retain core staff for a greater proportion of the year.
Overseas apple exports have declined due to increased production and freight costs, a significant jump in export registration fees, the high Australian dollar and strong demand in the domestic market. Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are the main markets for Tasmanian apple exports, with access to China established in 2014. New apple varieties are being introduced to meet changing market demand.
Recent rapid growth in the demand and supply of craft and boutique apple and pear ciders is likely to continue and might provide additional diversification options for producers. Opportunities also exist in agri tourism, including cellar doors and cafes, and for diversification into value-added and niche produce.
The cherry subsector is rapidly expanding in Tasmania. Strong investment in the cherry industry has been based on the potential of export markets. Tasmania currently exports cherries to around 20 countries. In the 2013 season, approximately 52 per cent of Australia’s total cherry exports were from Tasmania. Access to the Chinese market was achieved in 2013. Industry has estimated that production could increase to 7 000 tonnes by 2015, cementing Tasmania as the largest cherry-producing state in Australia.
Tasmania’s niche for cherries is the top end of premium in overseas markets, where the Tasmanian product is differentiated on the basis of its quality and larger fruit size. Opportunities also exist in the domestic market for premium product. In 2010–11, the cherry subsector’s farm-gate value was $28.4 million.
Aside from cherries, Tasmania still has a relatively small stone-fruit production area. Some growth has occurred in the sector as a result of traditional apple growers diversifying into stone fruit production, which has lower production costs and water requirements. The focus has predominately been on supplying the domestic market, both locally through farm gate and interstate. In 2010–11, the farm-gate value of apricots was $7.7 million and other stone fruit (excluding cherries) was $1.2 million.
There has been significant production growth in the Tasmanian berry sector over the past few years, due largely to investment in large-scale systems and access to new berry varieties.
Globally, the berry category has experienced strong growth and according to market intelligence, fresh berries are the top-selling fresh food category in Europe and in the US. Similarly, demand in the domestic market has rapidly expanded. This sales growth has been driven by consumer recognition of the product’s health benefits, together with improved quality and greater consistency in supply.
The berry subsector contributes about five per cent of Australia’s total fresh berry production. The farm-gate value of the berry sector was estimated in 2010–11 at $16.1 million, of which raspberries and strawberries comprised 58 per cent of the value. Blackcurrants are the principal berry fruit grown for processing.
Tasmania’s temperate climate provides the essential winter chill followed by a long, mild, growing season to support fruit development and enhanced flavour. Tasmanian stone fruit and berries have a clear, late season production advantage, both within Australia and overseas. The timing of Tasmanian production also provides counter-seasonal supply opportunities to the northern hemisphere.
The state’s island status and risk-based quarantine controls mean Tasmania also has the advantage of relative disease and pest-free status. This allows access to a number of international markets, including Asia, where stringent import regulations are in place.
The Tasmanian fruit processing sector remains small, with the majority of players being micro or small operations (predominately preserves and jams) servicing niche markets. There are now a number of small processors in the industry producing a range of value-add products, such as juices and ciders, as well as freeze dried products and flavour concentrates. Small agri-tourism ventures, especially those attached to farms, are increasingly moving into other fruit-based value-add products such as ice cream, baked items, fruit wines and chocolates.