Vegetables are good for the Australian economy

Australia’s vegetable exporters are tapping new technology to double the shelf life of some of their produce, increasing their competitiveness amid rising freight costs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A pilot project by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, AUSVEG and Hort Innovation used controlled atmosphere technology to trial sea freight to New Zealand and Asia.

Trials on broccoli, sweet corn, green beans and iceberg lettuce were conducted using Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) liners and Controlled Atmosphere (CA) conditions inside containers with the aim of extending storage life.

Trials show extremely promising results

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries principal horticulturist Jodie Campbell said the results from the trials were extremely promising.

“Shipping broccoli to Japan and Taiwan, we found the ideal container temperature was close to 0C while increasing temperatures to 4C reduced shelf life by up to seven days,” she said. 

“With sweet corn, the results revealed that shipping under a Controlled Atmosphere treatment doubled shelf life on arrival in market to up to 10 days.

“There was significant variation in storage limits of different varieties of green beans, sweet corn and lettuce, so cultivar selection to suit the longer sea freight supply chain will also be important.

“These results show packaging and controlled atmosphere treatments can reduce the risks associated with shipping, providing exporters with the knowledge and confidence to pursue sea freight.”

Sea freight critical for the vegetable industry

The volume of highly perishable vegetables exported by air freight declined in 2020 due to the pandemic. AUSVEG CEO Michael Coote said exploring the viability of sea freight was critical for the industry.

“The value of national fresh vegetable exports dipped 6.3 per cent in 2020 to $263 million. Volumes were down 6.6 per cent over the year. This was due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19,” Mr Coote said. 

“The pandemic has disrupted both sea and air freight over the past 12 months. This has added to the challenges that exporters have faced trying to continue servicing their customers in international markets.

“This research project is important. It provides vegetable exporters with additional insights into which export markets are technically viable by sea freight and will help underpin short and longer-term export growth for the industry.”

Hort Innovation CEO Matt Brand said the project was supported with funds from the vegetable industry levy.

“The research will give vegetable growers more knowledge about the viability of a sea freight transport option for fresh produce,” Brand said.

“This information is critical during this challenging trading environment. We are pleased to support the vegetable industry through this important research project.”

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Australian Government support in a time of need

In the face of global trade disruptions, many Australian businesses reliant on airfreight have been forced to stop, regroup and adjust. Austrade’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM), a temporary, emergency COVID-response measure, was launched to keep global airfreight links flowing.

Airfreight capacity and connectivity is nowhere near the levels it was pre-COVID.

For the 18 months to October 2021, IFAM kept international routes operating and:

  • helped Australian businesses stay connected to their existing customers,
  • bought them much needed time to think, plan and embrace innovative technologies like controlled atmosphere treatments.

Austrade is also working with Australian agribusinesses and other exporters facing extraordinary challenges due to the current trade disruptions. Austrade is helping these exporters to diversify and expand their businesses.

Introduced in late 2020, Austrade’s $72 million Agri-Business Expansion Initiative (ABEI) adopts “a boots on the ground approach”. Austrade experts across the globe are helping Australia’s farmers, fishers, foresters, and agribusiness exporters:

  • widen their export footprint and grow sales in established areas
  • maintain relationships with existing clients as they look to cultivate new ones.

More information on ABEI can be found here and more information IFAM can be found here