There are a number of completed and ongoing R&D projects for the cherry industry that are working towards better understanding of and solutions for challenges such as fruit rot and cracking. Boosting crop yields and fruit quality using soil microbiology is also an ongoing project, as is export-related work. Read more in the R&D Snapshot below.
The marketing plan for the upcoming cherry season is also in development, with activities set to drive seasonal awareness and purchasing in the local market and to grow interest in export markets. The Marketing Snapshot below has more.

INDUSTRY UPDATE

The inaugural Strategic Investment Advisory Panel (SIAP) for the cherry industry was held on Tuesday July 19, 2016 in Melbourne, with topics of discussion including financial levy updates, new R&D concepts, trade events and the 2016/17 strategic marketing plan. A summary of the meeting will be hosted on Hort Innovation’s cherry page when available.

A cherry industry Strategic Investment Plan (SIP) development workshop was also held in July, with attendees including the SIAP and lead agency the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. Consultation meetings on the SIP are currently being held – visit the cherry page for further details.

To find out more about the Cherry program, take a look at the cherry page on the Hort Innovation website or send the industry’s Relationship Manager at Hort Innovation, Mark Spees, an email or contact Graeme Yardy for Cherry Marketing via email.

R&D SNAPSHOT

NEW, ONGOING AND COMPLETED PROJECTS FOR THE INDUSTRY

Reducing the impact of late season rainfall (CY12000)

This now-completed Tasmanian project has generated important results regarding cherry cracking that are directly applicable within current orchard management practises. The project shifts the thinking of cracking management from a reactive approach when rain is imminent to a holistic year-round approach, providing information with which to improve fruit integrity, and consequently fruit quality.

The broad aims of the project were to reduce crop damage, and the impact of late-season rainfall specifically, by preventing rapid and excess water uptake to fruit following rainfall events and building fruit resilience before a rainfall event.

A number of trials were undertaken, building on results of earlier project Improving marketable yield of premium quality cherries (CY09002). The results show building resilience in fruit early in the season helps reduce the impact of rainfall late in the season when fruit is most susceptible to cracking. However, no practical options to reduce the rapid uptake of rainfall late in the season were revealed – ground covers will slow uptake but are not suited to current systems, vascular tissue stays connected and functional throughout fruit maturation, and root pruning late in the season is not viable.

Methods shown for building early resilience included maintaining cuticular and skin integrity and strength, enhanced by a comprehensive calcium program to allow calcium uptake early in fruit development. Maintaining irrigation was key to reduce excessive diurnal shrinking and swelling of fruit during development, and to avoid trees being water stressed coming into a rainfall event. Managing crop load, and considering the growth rate of fruit early in fruit development, is also a recommendation of the project.

The work is to be presented as part of an upcoming user-friendly manual about cherry cracking.

Improving fruit quality and consistency in cherries through maximised nutrient availability (CY12002)

The aim of this project is to investigate whether soil microbiology to can be utilised to maximise the availability and uptake of plant nutrients, to in turn boost crop yields and fruit quality.

The Tasmanian project is progressing on target and is providing interesting information on annual changes under alternative and conventional nutrient management. A Derwent Valley site has now been established for four seasons and a Nicholls Rivulet site for three seasons. Although they have different soil types and cultivars, the two sites have shown similar trends to date, with a higher percentage of A-grade fruit and a reduction in cracking in fruit from the alternative treatments. All sampling and assessments have been completed for the 2015/16 season and data analysis is in progress.

The alternative treatments involve humates with combined minerals, and with ‘effective microbes’ (a mix of about 80 different species of co-existing beneficial microorganisms).

Optimal management of pre-harvest rot in sweet cherry (CY13001)

This project aims to improve knowledge of cherry-rot pathogens. Its final field season activities have now been completed, including assessments of latent infection and rot for orchards in Tasmania and New South Wales.

A weather-based infection risk tool has been developed and is being tested with new infection models derived from this project. The remaining six months of the project will focus on data analysis, reporting and communication. A fact sheet will also be created and distributed.

Evaluating the sugar floatation method testing cherries for Qfly (CY14009)

This now-complete project investigated whether the brown sugar flotation (BSF) procedure could be used for detecting the eggs and larvae of Queensland fruit fly (Qfly) and Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly) in Australian cherries.

Sugar flotation procedures have been used for many years to separate insects from other substrates. With recent restrictions on chemicals that have been successfully used to manage fruit fly pests over many decades, and increasing demand for pest freedom from importing states and countries, BSF was seen as a potential quick and robust test for validating the risk of Qfly and Medfly infestation along the supply chain.

From the experiments, it was determined that the BSF procedure is an effective tool in detecting Qfly and Medfly insect in cherry fruit and should be incorporated, together with the existing sampling practice, as part of the system approach protocol for detecting fruit fly infestation in Australian cherry fruits.

Fruit in the calcium trial, part of project CY12000 (left) and measuring fruit firmness as part of CY12002 (right)

Cracking in fruit as seen in project CY12000

Maintenance and ongoing development of communications across the Australian cherry industry (CY11026)

Strong communication among all stakeholders in the Australian cherry industry is vital, particularly in order for growers to be able to make informed decisions when facing future challenges and opportunities. This project maintained and built upon the progress of previous project Developing communications, engagement and capacity across the Australian cherry industry (CY11018) and, now complete, will be continued by the Cherry communications program (CY15002).

CY11026 involved the ongoing publication of industry magazine Australian Cherries, distributed quarterly, regular distribution of relevant information via post/electronic communication, maintenance of the industry website, workshops and more.

The project has links to the ongoing National cherry development program (CY12023), which coordinates annual roadshows for the industry. The 2016 roadshow program has been developed around state priorities and presenting researcher/specialists have been engaged.

Export development for Australian cherries (CY12007)

The growth of the Australian cherry industry over the last five years has made it imperative for the industry to gain new access to export markets, seek commercial market improvement and to maintain existing markets. This project – now completed and to be continued by ongoing export work (see the ‘Other R&D of note’ section below) – ensured this work, begun by Developing and maintaining market access for the Australian cherries (CY11017), continued.

A key focus of the project was to build on the export culture already being developed among Australian cherry growers across the growing regions, for both regulated and unregulated markets.

The project has involved:

  • Maintaining links with government and other associated organisations to ensure that CGA is well informed on market access issues
  • Dissemination of information to growers and exporters, so that they can continue to make informed contribution to planning of activities and to strategies to be followed
  • The annual review, reproduction and distribution of the National Australian Cherry Industry Export and Biosecurity Manual and IPDM Calendar. These have been expanded to cover all monitoring and diseases in electronic and hard copy linked to CGA website
  • Seeking input from growers regarding protocol reviews and associated issues through sub committees, workshops and the like
  • Increasing the profile of Australian cherries in the global market by participating in events such as market visits and international trade fairs
  • Investigating the feasibility of an export registration system for Australian growers from all regions to be introduced in the future. This was set up in close cooperation with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in the 2014/15 season, evaluated and set up for the 2015/16 season, and planned for the 2016/17 season
  • Grower study tours of export markets, undertaken with state agencies in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia
  • The facilitation of programs for incoming delegations from export market destinations.

Also produced during the life of the project were the Are You Export Ready Guide and the Guide to the Export Readiness Checklist.

Other R&D of note…

Hort Innovation is working with the cherry industry to design new export development projects. One project will focus on market access and market maintenance.

The objectives of the services are to help ensure the export-readiness of the cherry industry for export to all existing markets by training growers, packers and exporters on the requirements for export to markets of interest and facilitating the registration and audit of export facilities. Work will deliver a broadly-supported export strategy detailing market access, improvement and development priorities, develop and implement a robust monitoring and management program for a range of pests and diseases of quarantine concern to export markets, and prepare and submit business cases to the Trade Assessment Panel for new market access and market improvement. It will also maintain a robust bio-security management plan and identify further R&D requirements to support market access and market maintenance.

Hort Innovation is also working with the cherry industry on an additional project to cover market development work in a range of Asian markets.

MARKETING SNAPSHOT

THE LATEST ACTIVITY THAT’S GROWING THE INDUSTRY

The marketing activity for the upcoming cherry season is currently in development.

Previous marketing for the industry has had a successful focus on growing interest and demand in export markets. In 2015/16 marketing also involved 465 point-of-sale kits – including posters, bunting and cherry bags – being delivered across Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

There were also state-based promotions including competitions, in-store sampling, media, PR and farm-gate activities.

While not yet finalised, this year’s campaign is expected to see Australian cherries being promoted via Australia Fresh attendance at key overseas trade shows – an important opportunity to promote cherries and to get market information back to the industry. There is also expected to be exporter co-promotions, as part of the Now In Season program, that will involve sampling and point-of-sale materials to encourage trial and purchase of Australian cherries in international retail stores.

Domestic marketing is also set to have a resurgence this year, with a need to move product especially prior to and after Christmas. To kick off the cherry season, activity will involve the supply of cherry bags as part of point-of-sale kits for retailers, in order to engage with more customers and so drive awareness and purchasing. There will also be state-based marketing activity at the independent-retailer level (sampling, point-of-sale materials etc), offering high value for money opportunities to boost consumer awareness and sales.

GROWER STORY

MICHAEL BATINICH, YOUNG, NSW

While the cherry industry may have its hurdles to clear, Michael Batinich is confident there’s a bright future ahead.

“I’ve been at this a long time,” Michael said. “I was born into the cherry industry as the fourth generation, and now there’s six generations of us. Over the years I’ve enjoyed the challenge of growing the best-possible fruit and dealing with what Mother Nature has thrown at us each year. I’ve loved being able to come together with my father, my sons and my wife to make this family-oriented business what it is, and meeting so many great people throughout the cherry season. But it’s true that a lot of people’s backs are against the wall.”

The future of the industry depends on getting Australian cherries into new export markets, and working on market improvements for those channels already open, Michael said. “It’s something we have to work hard for, but I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that if we keep working away at an export market push like we are, we’ll get there.”

Michael said that while his business used to export 75 per cent of its fruit, in the last few years the tables have turned. “Now we have 75 per cent of our cherries going on the domestic market and only a small amount being exported – and that story is similar for many mainland cherry producers.”

At the moment the ability to get into some markets is difficult, and some of the access protocols aren’t proving workable, Michael said. “But we’ve got our foot in the door and we can help improve this in the future. When we do get those protocols right and get that market access, I’m hoping we’ll see more young people coming into the industry because there’ll be an enormous future for them then.”

Another challenge for the industry that Michael remains optimistic about is the threat of Queensland fruit fly. “I’m absolutely passionate about the across-industry SITplus program involving Hort Innovation, which is seeing the release of sterile male fruit flies and real education and collaboration around the issue,” he said.

“We’ve actually had a sterile fruit fly release in the Young Shire Council area this past season as part of separate work. Here the local growers are working very closely with the council, and the council has been very collaborative with us, and it’s already been a stunning success, with some fantastic results coming out of it.”

The benefits are filtering down to everyone, not just commercial growers, Michael said. “In the area where we released the fly, anecdotal evidence is coming back that backyard tomato growers are impressed. They’re actually able to pick and eat their tomatoes because they haven’t got insect damage.”

Also addressing the issue of the Queensland fruit fly, Michael said he was happy to supply the fruit needed for recently completed research into the sugar flotation method of detecting the flies in cherries.

“There’s a lot of things happening in the cherry industry and opportunities to be involved,” he said. “I’m on the industry’s Strategic Investment Advisory Panel, and I think we’re going to achieve some great programs moving into the future.”

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