By BEN PISCIONERI
A recent international conference was told the world’s largest suppliers, California and Turkey, which together last year produced more than 650,000 tonnes of dried grapes, are this year expected to produce well below 600,000.
The drop in production follows reports of between 20 and 40 percent less fruit coming out of Turkey this year.
Meanwhile, “freezing” weather conditions in Chile, Argentina and South Africa have further impacted on world supply, putting more than 100,000 tonnes of dried grapes in jeopardy.
Dried Fruits Australia chairman Mark King said this week the drop in production, combined with increasing prices in both the United States and Turkey, should result in firmer prices for Australian growers.
“Other countries are down on production, so there are going to be less sultanas put into the market this year than was the case last year, so you would think the prices would firm.
It’s simple supply and demand,” Mr King said this week.
He said while it was too early to get an accurate picture of how the Australian crop was shaping up, early indications were positive.
“It might not be the biggest crop, but the quality looks to be at least as good as last year, if not better, but we’ve still got a long way to go and are dependent on the right conditions,” Mr King said.
While international market conditions appear to point to increased demand for Australian fruit, the big question on growers’ lips now is whether this will translate to better prices from processors.
About this time last year, growers were similarly upbeat before being told they would be paid about $200 a tonne less for their fruit.
At the time though, massive quantities of cheap fruit coming out of Turkey was one of the significant factors behind the surprise drop in prices, a factor which won’t be repeated this year if figures quoted at the recent international dried grape conference are to be believed.
Australian Premium Dried Fruits managing director, Alan Williamson, echoed Mr King’s comments in relation to the international supply and demand situation for sultanas.
“There are positives there, in the sense that there seems to be a reduction in Turkey, so they’ve had some seasonal issues that have reduced their crop, so that’s a positive for us,” Mr Williamson said.
However he said the unknown factor at this stage was the impact of the Australian dollar.
Mr Williamson said this was the main factor behind APDF informing its growers recently that it didn’t expect to release its prices for the coming harvest until later in December amid predictions the value of the dollar should have dropped by then.
“We’re waiting to see what happens with the dollar. We’ve had so much volatility. When it dropped back under 90 cents obviously the phone rang a lot more, but now it’s gone back up to 95 cents, which is the wrong way for us,” he said.
“If we set our prices now, with the dollar relatively high, when we expect it to trend down, it could impact negatively on our growers, and I think they understood that at our recent meeting.”
Mr Williamson said that while the outlook for sultanas and Sun Muscats was positive, currants were in oversupply and expected to fall in price.
APDF took in 5000 tonnes of fruit last year, and the company’s managing director expects to bump that figure up to about 6000 this harvest, with several new growers already signed up.
Speaking more broadly, Mr King said the real future of the Australian dried grape industry lay in increasing production to between 25,000 and 30,000 tonnes annually, as well as promoting dried fruit to consumers, both in Australia and on the world stage.
At present, Australia produces between 17,000 and 18,000 tonnes of dried grapes, which falls well short of the 42,000 tonnes of dried grapes consumed each year in Australia.
Globally, about one million tonnes of dried grapes are consumed annually.
Mr King said by ramping up production levels, Australian growers will have a better chance of winning back international markets that were lost due to the inability to supply enough fruit.
He said there was a current push through Coles supermarkets to promote Australian sultanas in a bid to increase demand domestically.
“We’re pushing Australian sultanas generally. Not Sunbeam, not Australian Premium, just Australian sultanas,” Mr King said.
The DFA chair instigated a similar push to promote the health benefits of sultanas globally at last month’s International Conference of Seedless Dried Grape Producing Countries in Germany, where he put up a motion for an international marketing campaign.
“They’ve agreed for Australia to put forward a proposal for a marketing campaign world wide, and each country will put in and try to push the health benefits of sultanas,” Mr King said.
“Years ago a lot more sultanas were consumed world-wide, but that consumption has dropped significantly, so that is something we want to address.”← Young Professionals Network scholarships Healthy Way to Go →
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