Article – Hurdles remain in the way of northern WA becoming Asia's food bowl

4 August 2014
Tyne McConnon
ABC Rural
Farmers in Western Australia’s Ord Valley say production costs will have to be cut to make exporting to Asia possible.
According to farmers and industry representatives there are major obstacles, such as production costs and infrastructure, to address before the north can become a food bowl.
The term ‘food bowl of Asia’ has been used to describe the region due to its apparent ability to produce high quality food.
The area has plentiful water, good soils, warm conditions during winter in the south and large amounts of mostly unfarmed land.
With its location so close to Asia and its cropping ability, the Ord River has been described as the perfect region to supply Asia’s growing appetite.
However, Ord banana, mango and grapefruit farmer Stuart Dobson says at the moment export is out of the question.
“The only markets we can sell at a reasonable price is the domestic market.”
“Japan was an option however it’s very difficult to get into Japan and our costs are really high.
“It costs us probably about $17 a box to get fruit to Fremantle and this year we were offered $12 a box landed in Tokyo.”
Mr Dobson says the high costs are experienced right through the entire production chain.
“It’s difficult to keep it under control. Some government help with exporting by reducing their inspection costs and their fees would go a long way.”
Australian produce does have a clean and green image. However, Mr Dobson says he hasn’t found it has helped him sell his produce more profitably.
“They are only prepared to pay the price they can get it from South Africa or South America. They aren’t prepared to pay a premium.”
It’s not only production costs which are holding producers back from exporting.
Kate Clarke, from Merchant Shipping, which ships out of both the Wyndham and Broome ports in the Kimberley, says there’s also infrastructure needed.
“At the moment, we don’t really have the facilities to be able to provide a refrigerated service.”
However, despite the obvious challenges, some remain positive that the Ord and the north will reach its potential.
Horticulture WA’s Gavin Foord says he believes exporting northern WA produce is possible.
“I’ve met with a number of people in the last six months that are really prepared to pay a premium.
“The food safety issue comes up constantly, talking to anybody in the south-east Asian market.
“We also have a really good reputation for eating quality.”
But Mr Foord does agree the price of production is often a problem for farmers looking to export.
“I’ve had interest from overseas buyers and again the price seems to be a bit of a stumbling block. However, at the right time, that’s maybe something to work through.
“There are still a few gaps in markets around the world.”
Courtesy of ABC Rural