Last year, Australian lychees hit United States shores for the first time, following market access approval to all states but Florida back in 2013. Jill Houser has been at the front-line of the new export process in her role as a producer and the executive officer of Australian Lychee Growers Association (ALGA). She says while it’s early, it’s pleasing to see the US already has a strong appetite for Aussie lychees.
Three years ago, when the Australian Department of Agriculture received word that negotiations to facilitate lychee and mango access to the US were successful, some growers breathed a sigh of relief. It was a win for the lychee industry, which was feeling the pinch of relying on sustaining good domestic market returns while maintaining the existing lychee export market.
For Jill, a Sunshine Coast hinterland producer, the announcement was welcome. She said while Australia produces up to 3000 tonnes of lychees annually, with the harvesting season spread over six months between October to March, local sales opportunities could fall flat.
“There have been many occasions over the years when large volumes of fruit have been harvested and sent simultaneously to the domestic markets in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, only to find that the markets could not sustain a good return to the growers on large volumes of fruit,” she said.
“Because of this, ALGA put a high priority on developing new export markets and maintaining existing export and domestic markets. Spreading our produce around will hopefully maintain strong returns for all lychee growers supplying high good quality fruit. “
Opening up the US market
After Australian lychees were given the green light to enter the mainland United States, an Operational Work Plan (OWP) was developed jointly by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Australian Department of Agriculture.
Off the back of that OWP, and in consultation with the lychee industry, Hort Innovation is delivering a three-year project, using industry levies and funds from the Australian Government.
This project comprises the development of materials on pests and diseases of quarantine concern, as well as chemicals and maximum residue limits; sourcing and submitting packaging approval with relevant authorities; and – importantly – grower registration and auditing.
The 2016/2017 season was year-two of the pilot program. Jill said the first year was spent preparing industry for all the strict US import requirements. In the second year, there were some considerations including a late start to the season in Australia due to a dry and unusually warm winter, and good domestic prices that initially slowed interest from US importers. Despite that, and with the benefit of a couple of new chemicals being approved for growers taking part in the US program, 2.5 tonnes of lychees were sent to the US.
“The feedback from the US importers and consumers on the tasting and quality of the Australian lychee was positive and encouraging. Even though only a small number of shipments were successful, it does appear that importers are eager and waiting for the 2017/18 season to begin,” Jill said.
Going into the third year of the program, the ALGA project team will continue to look at ways to simplify the exporting experience for US-approved growers – including reviewing existing procedures and treatments to see if the US export protocol can be incorporated into current growing, spraying and grading standards.
Jill said the goal is to increase the number of shipments sent compared to last year. “This year it will be more important than ever to ensure our US registered and approved growers have as many resources to work with as possible,” she said.
Eye on the future
Jill said exports remain a big focus for the lychee industry.
“The US market may not be for all lychee growers, but more available export destinations will give growers the choice to export or to send domestic,” she said. “Safeguarding from oversupplying the domestic market and yet still making sure all our domestic consumers will continue to be supplied with fresh lychees is key.”
China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and other Asian countries grow lychees but they are all counter-seasonal to lychee growing in Australia, Jill said.
“Lychees are not only enjoyed and loved by Australians but by Asian communities, so there is still a very large export market out there that needs to be investigated.”
Growers interested in finding out more about the US export program, and others, should contact the ALGA.
Grower guides relating to export continue to be available through the ALGA, including information on pest and diseases of quarantine concern, as well as chemicals and maximum residue limits.