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Door opens for US to send apples to Australia despite industry maintaining biosecurity risks

The United States has been given the green light to send fresh apples to Australia, after more than 20 years of lobbying. 

The announcement comes after Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry announced it had completed a risk analysis for the importation of fresh apples from Pacific Northwest states of the US.

Growers will be subject to strict biosecurity procedures set out by the department, and fruit will be imported from the states of Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

The region accounts for 65 per cent of apple production and exports in the US.

The area also has at least 20 pests and disease that are not found in Australian orchards, including fire blight.

Biosecurity concerns remain

Australia is one of the few countries in the world that does not have fire blight — and orchardists such as John Evans want to keep it that way.

“For fire blight, there is no cure,” he said.

“We as an industry would have to spray with antibiotics, which we do not want to do.”

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) visited Mr Evans’s property at Geeveston in southern Tasmania as part of its application process for import approval.

a bin of red apples
The cost of producing apples in the US is much lower than in Australia.(ABC Rural: Laurissa Smith)

“When they were here I said to them, ‘will the apples be coming in under the US Export Enhancement Scheme?’

“Well they said yes, ” Mr Evans said.

“That’s a 65 per cent subsidy, so even if you’re thinking that we’ve got a low dollar and they’ve got a high dollar and they’re not going to be making any money, they can afford to be selling at 41 cents in the dollar.”

Organic Tasmanian apple grower Andrew Smith said he agreed.

“A US Pacific Northwest grower can land a carton of apples with freight to Brisbane for $1.40 per carton,” he said.

“It costs us $10 a carton to get it there based on Australian wages.”

 a man reaches to prune an apple branch
Orchardist John Evans is convinced consumers will be able to buy imported American apples cheaper than Australian-grown fruit.(ABC Rural: John Evans)

Apple market oversupplied

Nicole Giblett is one of Western Australia’s largest producers in Manjimup, in the state’s south-west.

She said she hoped Australians would continue to support farmers by buying apples grown locally. 

“We’re already in an industry that’s in a state of massive oversupply domestically, with huge volumes yet to come,” she said.

“There’s a lot of orchards not yet in full production,” 

“We’ve got a lot of wonderful apple varieties that were developed here and are already popular.

“There’s an apple to suit every taste, every palette – I don’t think we need any more.”

Wooden boxes full of green granny smith apples in a fruit orchard
Granny Smith apples harvested at Peter Hall’s family orchard near Mooroopna in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley.(ABC Rural: Warwick Long)

Fred Pezzimenti is the operations manager at Melbourne wholesaler Simply Fresh Fruit, which focuses on local produce.

He said the business would try to steer clear of US apples, but believes supermarkets will leap at the chance of securing cheaper produce.

“If they get it at a price and the public demand it because its got a price, ” Mr Pezzimenti said.

“Depends how loyal the Australian customer is compared to the American product.”

Push to lift Australian exports

About 2 per cent of Australia’s apples are sent overseas.

Industry body Apple and Pear Australia has set a target to lift this volume to 10 per cent of the crop by 2027.

Federal Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing Tim Ayres said that’s where the industry needs to focus its attention.

“Growers will not leave the industry as a result of this ruling, ” he said.

“There’s a tiny percentage of overseas apples in the market, this won’t make much of a difference.”

“What we don’t do effectively in this country is export.

“We’ve got to get better at marketing our fruit and vegetable to the world.”

In 2020–21, Australia imported about $2.4 billion of agricultural products from the US. In the same period, it exported about $4.2 billion in agricultural products to the US.

Before imports can begin, the Department of Agriculture will need to publish import conditions on the Biosecurity Import Conditions system.

It will also need to Issue import permits to Australian importers who meet those conditions.

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