ATGA CEO expects “very good year” for Aussie table grapes

The head of the Australian Table Grape Association (ATGA) claims reports of administrative hold-ups for China-bound shipments were blown out of proportion last month, and that exporters were given registrations in time to send some containers in time for Chinese New Year (CNY) festivities.

ATGA CEO Jeff Scott tells Fresh Fruit Portal that 90% of Australia’s table grape export season involves sales after these celebrations, but this year has been unique with earlier fruit ripening and a later CNY on Feb. 16.

“I have to say AQSIQ (China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine) were very good because when they got advice that we would like the [registered exporter] list up very quickly, it went up probably earlier than what had happened in previous years,” says Scott.

“There was no delay or anything like that; it was just pure administrative work like what happens every year,” he says, clarifying the list was published more than two weeks ago.

“Everyone was hoping to get three or four containers across to China in time – everyone likes to do that because that’s the market we’d like to access, but timing-wise we know we can’t really do it that often. It’s a one-off situation that might come around in another four or six years.”

More recently, Scott and his colleagues along with Austrade and Hort Innovation have been busy with association seminars in Japan (Tokyo and Osaka) and South Korea (Seoul).

“Just about every major importer, distributor and retailer was there in attendance,” he says.

“I gave a major presentation on the industry, what the upcoming season was going to be like, innovation and marketing that the industry is going to take for Japan and Korea, and then afterwards there was networking.

“We only had half a dozen exporters there because the season is starting, but everyone in attendance couldn’t have been happier.”

He says the industry is also looking at doing promotions in South East Asian countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, while potentially doing more association-level seminars to benefit importers in different markets in the future.

He emphasizes 2018 is looking to be a “very good year” for the Australian table grape sector.

“The crop is not large in size, it’s a normal crop. Everyone is saying that the sugar is very much on the high levels.

“The brix [sweetness measure] has come on early and they’re very strong – the size, the color, the formation of the bunches and so on. Everyone is saying it’s one of the best years they’ve ever had, particularly some of our main varieties such as Thompson Seedless and Crimson.

“The color in Crimson looks very uniform and good at this stage so everyone is looking for a very good year,” he says,

He adds the hot weather experienced in Australia this summer hasn’t had any major impact on the grapes.

“If anything it brings on their maturity a lot sooner than normal,” he says.

“Because it’s Australia and we have covers to protect our Thompsons from sunburn, the heat won’t have that much of an impact if at all.

“There’s just more maturity on Crimsons than what we would have expected but not by much, maybe a week or so.”