Demand for fresh Australian vegetables continues to rise

The value and volume of fresh Australian vegetable exports have increased in 2017/18, following strong trading conditions in key export markets in Asia and the Middle East, and increased demand for Australian-grown vegetables.

The value of fresh Australian vegetable exports increased by three per cent to $262.4 million in 2017/18, Ausveg reports.

The industry is well placed to meet its goal of 40 per cent growth to $315 million in fresh vegetable exports by 2020, Ausveg explains.

The top five markets for fresh vegetable exports by volume in 2017/18 were the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, which make up just over 60 per cent of Australia’s total fresh vegetable export volume.

READ: Fight against fruit fly strengthened with technology

The top five markets for fresh vegetable exports by value in 2017/18 were Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Malaysia and Hong Kong, with the top three of these markets making up over 50 per cent of the industry’s total fresh vegetable export value.

Ausveg national manager for export development, Michael Coote, said the vegetable industry has seen solid growth in exports across a variety of fresh vegetable products in recent years, with the whole vegetable category averaging 10 per cent year-on-year growth over the past three years.

“Carrots are the number one traded fresh vegetable commodity by both volume and value, with steady year-on-year growth over a sustained period of time indicating that demand for Australian carrots remains strong,” said Coote.

“Over 85 per cent of Australia’s fresh vegetable export volume is comprised of carrots, potatoes and onions. However, we still see positive growth in some other categories, including asparagus, which despite only comprising two per cent of fresh vegetable exports by volume, make up 11 per cent of fresh vegetable export trade by value and are the second highest value fresh vegetable commodity at $28 million,” he said.

Through its work in developing the exporting capabilities of the Australian vegetable industry, Ausveg undertook a wide range of activities during 2018 to help the industry improve its exporting capabilities, including:

  • Five outbound trade missions, taking 42 grower-exporters to key export markets to increase the capability for emerging and existing grower-exporters through in-market trade activities and knowledge-sharing among growers;
  • Six export workshops, which provided 44 attendees with practical and tailored knowledge about the export process; and
  • Eight new market access submissions for different vegetables into Asian markets.

“The industry has increased its focus on boosting the value and volume of its vegetable exports, with work being undertaken by Ausveg, Hort Innovation and other groups in building the exporting skills of Australian growers and providing opportunities to build relationships with foreign buyers, as well as supporting the Taste Australia trade program,” said Coote.

“We are working with growers to ensure they have the skills and knowhow to improve their ability to export their produce and capitalise on increasing demand for fresh, Australian-grown produce.

“We are also working closely with the Australian government and international trading partners to open market access for more vegetable commodities so that our growers can increase their exports into key export markets across Asia and the Middle East,’ said Coote.

New technology to track grape development for better harvest

Measuring and tracking the development of grapes in the vineyard is now easier – with a new mobile phone app.

The WineOz Smart Grape Android app was developed by Charles Sturt University (CSU) researchers and is available for growers and vineyard managers to use this coming harvest.

It was created by the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre (NWGIC) and funded by Wine Australia.

Lead researcher and NWGIC director, Leigh Schmidtke, said the smartphone app allows growers to quickly measure and then chart the colour and size of the berries.

READ: Wine Australia looks at trends for smaller exporters

“A probe around the size of a single grape is inserted into the cluster to act as a reference point for size in the app.

“You then take a picture of the grape cluster. The algorithms in the computer program calibrate the distance from the camera to the berries. The software will also take the probe measurement in pixels then relate it to the size of the surrounding grapes,” said Schmidtke.

“As grapes mature they change colour, for instance, white varieties go from pea green to yellow gold as they develop. Each particular shade in that colour change relates to changes in the sensory style of wine.

“Being able to measure and chart colour change is very valuable and allows winemakers to predict when they should be harvesting the grapes to end up with the style of wine they want to produce.

“What’s more, the colour and berry size data can be used to monitor negative developments in the crop. For example, if you start to see a reduction in the size of the berries that you wouldn’t expect as they normally mature, you know that they are losing water and can take remedial action,” said Schmidtke.

Wine Australia general manager research, development and extension, Liz Waters, said the app has translated Australian-based research on sequential harvesting into a simple tool that growers can use in the coming vintage.

“The app will make it easier for grapegrowers and winemakers to use objective measures – proven for Australian conditions – to determine the optimum fruit picking ‘window’ to suit desired wine styles by tracking the evolution of fruit colour (white varieties) or volume (for red and white varieties),” said Waters.

“By measuring berry volume, the app will also allow grapegrowers to make improvements to irrigation scheduling to control vine water status, which will assist in avoiding berry water loss and shrivel, enhance fruit quality, and improve bunch consistency.”

The Android app is available through Google Play and is supported by other resources on the NWGIC website.

Coles raises more than $7.1 million for drought appeal

Coles and its customers have contributed more than $7.1 million to the Country Women’s Association of Australia to help drought-affected farmers.

With Coles matching every donation dollar-for-dollar during August and September, customers and the supermarket chain have helped to raise funds for household and family expenses.

Coles also pledged $5m in grants or interest-free loans from the Coles Nurture Fund for farmers who have a project that will help them combat drought in the future.

Country Women’s Association of Australia board member Lyn Harris thanked Coles and its customers for their generous contribution which will go towards supporting drought-affected families where it is needed most.

READ: Climate adaptation project helps local producers cope with drought

Coles Store commercial and property director Thinus Keeve said the company is overwhelmed by the generosity of local shoppers across the country who have shown their support for Australian farming communities by donating at Coles checkouts.

“We are incredibly grateful for this tremendous contribution from our customers and team members who have gone above and beyond to raise funds for the Country Women’s Association drought appeal,” he said.

“[It] will go back to supporting local farmers, growers and producers who are experiencing hardship as a result of the drought,” said Keeve.

The Woolworths group also raised more than $7m for farmers and Harris Farm Market also donated to the drought-stricken communities.

Australian government: Research vital for farming in a challenging climate

When it comes to putting this season into perspective, Riverina grower Roy Hamilton has 128 years of rainfall records to show that, for his family’s property, this year is one of the driest since 1890.

The Australian government’s Grains Research and Development Corporation explains that research is important in fighting climate change – something that Hamilton is well aware of too.

The grain and fat lamb producer from Rand in southern New South Wales said 2018 was the third driest year on record on his property, behind 1982 and 2002, with just 110mm of growing rain received this season against a long-term average of 290mm.

The Hamilton family has owned Bogandillan Pastoral Company, a 4400-hectare mixed farming operation for more than 90 years and was one of the early adopters of minimum tillage, direct drill and controlled traffic farming.

READ: Dry weather in Australia significantly impacting crops

Hamilton said these practices, along with a growing understanding of how to store soil moisture, control weeds effectively and manage nutrition, have meant even in really dry times there was still crop planted that would reach harvest.

“In the past, a season like this would have meant bare paddocks, but major improvements in how we do things on-farm, driven by quality research, have meant we can now plant on just 10mm of rainfall and still get crop establishment with limited moisture and take it through with some harvest potential,” he said.

“The key difference between then and now is our understanding of how to store moisture. Twenty years ago, we would never have had a boom spray in the same paddock as a harvester, but now it’s standard practice, because we know early weed control preserves soil moisture for the next crop.

“So essentially, research has changed the way we farm and improved critical elements like our water use efficiency and made it possible to get a crop planted and through to harvest in some of the toughest years we’ve had,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton, who is also a Grains Research and Development Corporation northern region panel member, credits the organisation with continuing to help growers build their knowledge and understanding of strategies to cope with drier years.

“Our records show the past two decades have been significantly more variable in terms of annual rainfall than the century before.”

The corporation needs to keep pushing into new frontiers and playing a vital part in developing on-farm management tactics that help us deal with seasonal challenge, he said.

“As a grower I feel the evidence is there to show our climate is becoming increasingly volatile and extreme, so we need all the tools we can get in terms of research and development to manage this and stay in the farming game,” said Hamilton.

The corporation’s chairman John Woods said often yields in a good year are talked about, but arguably it is more important to have a small crop in a tough season.

“We need to continue this work to mitigate climate effects and raise productivity in marginal years, as these years often coincide with very rewarding prices,” said Woods.



Consultation open for new rules for exporting meat products

​People in the meat trade are being urged to have their say about new rules ​for exporting meat products.

The call comes from the Australian government after consultation on new draft export control rules for meat and meat products were opened on November 7.

The minister for agriculture David Littleproud said the export control rules will bring in modern, flexible and streamlined export laws for meat producers.

“I want to keep the doors open for Aussie meat exporters and this will give overseas markets greater confidence in our products,” said Littleproud.

READ: Lamb skins exports reach $377 million last year with price increasing

“Our industry needs to be responsive to changing overseas market conditions without slugging our farmers.

“These rules will make exporting meat straightforward and cut duplication of paperwork and processes,” he said.

“They’ll clearly outline how meat should be prepared and if permits or certificates are required while maintaining the level of oversight expected by overseas markets.

“This will support access to export markets making sure our reputation for reliable, high-quality meat is upheld,” said Littleproud.

Existing export-related legislation is being streamlined and consolidated into improved legislation in the Export Control Bill 2017 and export control rules.

The Draft Export Control Rules 2020 – for meat and meat products are ready for consultation.

Stakeholders need to make written submissions by December 21, 2018.

Information sessions will be held during November and December. Other opportunities to comment will be available before the full package comes into effect.

More than $11.5 billion of Australian meat was exported in 2017-18.

It is expected that $12.2b will be exported in 2018-19.

The rules will replace the export control orders and parts of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act and the Australian Meat and Livestock industry regulations.

Australia’s agricultural traceability​ strengthened with new project

A national traceability project, which will help Australian farmers show the origins and quality of their produce, is underway.

​Australian minister for agriculture, David Littleproud, said the project would enhance trust in Australian-grown products and give farmers a competitive edge.

​”We’ll be able to more easily find where a biosecurity or food safety problem began so an isolated incident won’t impact a whole industry,” said Littleproud.

“It will also let us stop overseas shipments earlier if there’s a food safety issue. We already do this well but this will make us even better at it.

READ: A barcoded apple is more important than you may realise

“It will let producers fully support claims, such as organic and environmentally friendly,” he said.

“This improvement will build greater trust in Aussie food and strengthen ‘brand Australia’.

“If we can demonstrate our food is world’s best we’ll see better profits for farmers,” said Littleproud.

​Consultations will soon get underway to develop a national traceability policy framework and action plan within the next six months.

“Improving our traceability systems will help us strengthen our reputation for delivering high quality, clean, green and safe food,” said Littleproud.

The project is being led by a traceability working group with members from all Australian governments.

Lentils studied as key ingredient to making bread healthier

Functional Grains Centre PhD candidate Drew Portman is researching the use of lentils to make a healthier bread than types using traditional flours.

Portman’s research, carried out with Agriculture Victoria, is investigating how lentil flour can be incorporated into wheat-based foods, such as bread, pasta or snacks.

“Lentils are widely consumed within Indian subcontinent and that’s where the bulk of the product grown in Australia is exported,” said Portman.

“Although lentils are gaining popularity as a food source in western diets, wheat is the staple grain used for manufacturing food products.

READ: Littleproud to visit India to discuss agricultural tariffs

“That means many of us are missing out on the nutritional benefits of lentils as they’re a great source of protein and the essential amino acids,” he said.

Pulse Australia and AgriFutures Australia reports that the Australian lentil industry produces on average between 400 and 600 tonnes of lentils per year, most of which is exported.

Lentil production in Australia has expanded from less than 1500 hectares in 1994 to more than 270,000 hectares.

The research at the Agriculture Victoria Grains Innovation Park, in Horsham involves testing the rheological and baking properties such as loaf volume and crumb structure but also examining the nutritional and chemical properties for potential health benefits of the final product.

“My research so far has shown that blending lentil and wheat flour improved the nutritional quality of bread.

“Optimising the blending ratio limited the deleterious effect on rheological properties resulting in acceptable loaf volume and crumb structure,” said Portman.

“Using a lentil and wheat flour mix in bread has the potential to make a product that most of us eat every day more nutritious.

“We hope this will also provide a higher-value market for lentils that are split or damaged during processing and currently sold as stock feed,” he said.

Portman’s research is supervised by Functional Grains Centre director professor Chris Blanchard,  Dr Joe Panozzo from Agriculture Victoria, professor John Mawson from Plant and Food Research New Zealand and Dr Mani Naiker from The Australian Catholic University.



Australian orange exports increase but drought still burdens other sectors

Rabobank’s agribusiness October outlook indicates growth in wine and fruit exports, but meat and grains are falling short.

The monthly report shows that fresh orange exports continue to grow in price and volume, as well as wine exports to Canada.

Canada is one of the top wine export destinations for Australia by value.

For July and August 2018, compared to the same period in 2017, Australian exports of all wine to Canada have lifted by about 17 per cent in volume and 7 per cent in value.

READ: Cattle prices trend down as drought conditions increase pressure in market

Fresh orange exports have grown substantially since 2013, with global trade data indicating total Australian fresh orange exports of 197,000 tonnes in 2017.

Global trade data shows that in 2017, key Australian export markets for oranges had increased in value by $107m, which is almost double the 2013 value.

Over the same period, export volumes grew by about 46,000 tonnes, an increase of about 50 per cent on 2013.

Despite growth in some wine and fruit markets, dry weather and frost damaged winter crops in the grains and oilseed sector, with south-west New South Wales missing out on much needed rain over September.

Rabobank reports that parts of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia were hit with frosty conditions, which caused significant damage to crops.

The Frost and ongoing dry conditions have reduced 2018/19 new crop prospects on grains and oilseeds.

Wool supply is set to continue to fall in the coming months and a dry outlook gives downside potential for young cattle.

A three-month outlook of the weather is expected to bring little rain to the country.

Despite the dry conditions, cattle prices lifted slightly or stayed steady throughout September and some rainfall through eastern states provided hope and ability to hold cattle rather than sell them, Rabobank reports.

September slaughter numbers (567,400 head) in the eastern states continue to reflect the drought-induced sales, up 15 per cent year-on-year.

Beef exports for September (91,668 tonnes swt) remain high, up 4 per cent year-on-year.

China remains hungry for Australian beef with exports up 55 per cent year-on-year, however they still remain Australia’s fourth-largest export market behind Japan, the US, and South Korea.

Live exports in comparison to 2017 YTD (August) are up 21 per cent, with stronger volumes to Indonesia and Vietnam throughout the year to date up 10 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

In addition, live exports to countries besides Indonesia and Vietnam (such as Malaysia and Middle East) has increased 195 per cent, since 2017 year-to-date.



Cider awards shows strong growth in Australian-made beverages

Of 13 gold medals awarded at the 2018 Australian Cider Awards, nine were won by Australian cider producers.

In early October, Cider Australia announced the winners of the awards, which saw William Smith and Sons win four awards.

The Tasmanian company’s Willie Smith’s Kingston Black Cider won Best in Show, Best Traditional Cider and Best Australian Cider, with a score of 93 in the Traditional Medium Sweet Cider class.

Cider Australia executive officer Jane Anderson said it is an exciting time for the cider industry in Australia.

READ: Australian grown trust mark aims to boost cider exports

“It’s great to see more Australian producers and their ciders scoring higher than ever before in this year’s judging. While fewer entries scored medals, the cider making profession in Australia is becoming more skilled and competitive with more gold medals awarded,” she said.

“With the quality of cider produced in Australia constantly improving, our Australian producers have also been winning medals at international shows in the US, UK and the World Cider Awards,” said Anderson.

Prior to the Awards dinner held in Sydney on the 5th of October, cider producers from around the country and international guests were invited to attend an industry forum where a world-first Australian craft cider trust mark was unveiled by Cider Australia.

Designed to identify ciders made with 100 per cent Australian grown fruit, the trust mark will help consumers to make more informed choices when buying cider.

Current labelling laws make it difficult to identify from where fruit in a cider has been sourced.

Less than 15 per cent of Australia’s cider market comprises craft ciders made with 100 per cent Australian grown fruit.

A field of 260 Australian and international entries were judged across 25 classes by a panel of local industry professionals and visiting experts from the US and New Zealand.

Within each class, bronze, silver or gold medals were awarded based on points achieved, with the highest score winning best in class and the overall category trophy.

The 2018 Australian Cider Award winners were:

Best in Show: William Smith & Sons – Willie Smith’s Kingston Black Cider
Best Traditional Cider: William Smith & Sons – Willie Smith’s Kingston Black Cider
Best New World Cider: Westons – Caple Road
Best Perry: Fils De Pømme – L’Épatant
Best Intensified / Distilled Cider or Perry: Small Acres Syder – Small Acres Cyder 2010 Pommeau
Best Australian Cider or Perry: William Smith & Sons – Willie Smith’s Kingston Black Cider
Best International Cider or Perry: Westons – Caple Road
Most Successful Small Producer (less than 50,000l per year): Small Acres Cyder
Most Successful Larger Producer (more than 50,000l per year): William Smith & Sons
Champion of the Industry Award: David Pickering, researcher and apple orchardist, NSW

Cider Australia is an independent, not-for-profit organisation funded by cider businesses and sponsors, established in 2012.

Australian wine exports to Germany grow by $10 million in one year

Australian wine exports to Germany have grown solidly from 37 million litres valued at $49 million in 2016–17 to 40 million litres valued at $59 million in 2017–18, a wine report indicates.

According to the Global Trade Atlas, in 2017–18, Italy was the biggest imported wine category by volume with a 35 per cent share, followed by Spain at 26 per cent, France at 15 per cent, South Africa  at 6 per cent, and Australia at 3 per cent.

Australia overtook Chile in 2017–18.

Germany is the world’s biggest imported wine market and fourth biggest wine market overall.

READ: Artificial Intelligence helps accurately map Australia’s 65 wine regions

It is Australia’s fifth largest export destination by volume and eighth by value.

The lower value ranking is principally due to the way in which wine is shipped from Australia to Germany – 85 per cent is shipped in bulk containers to be packaged in-market.

There were 20 bulk wine exporters and 105 bottled wine exporters to Germany in 2017–18.

The growth in the last 12 months has come through increased bulk shipments, up 11 per cent to 34 million litres, while bottled exports declined by 9 per cent to 6 million litres.

Driving the growth in bottled exports at $5 or more was Riesling and Chardonnay, which more than offset declines in Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

While Germany is a stable and mature market, new opportunities are being created in the German wine market by increasing involvement and greater consumer openness to experiment with new and different styles of wine.

The adult population in Germany in 2017 totalled 66.2 million people.

According to Wine Intelligence, of these, 44.2m drink wine at least once a year, 27.5m drink at least once a month and 19.5m drink wine weekly.

The International Wine and Spirit Record (IWSR), reported that in 2017 there were 276 million cases of wine sold in Germany, of which 51 per cent were imported wines.

The German market is price conscious with 71 per cent of still wine sales at the low-end of the market at less than $5 per bottle.

Premium to prestige wine sales, at $12 per bottle and above, represent 2.5 per cent of the still wine sales.

In 2017, there were declines at the bottom and top-end of the market.

Sales below $5 per bottle declined by 0.3 per cent, while sales above $24 per bottle fell by 1.9 per cent.

There was growth at the mid-range and premium price segments. Sales between about $5 and about $24 per bottle increased by 0.5 per cent.

The price profile of the German market reflects where Germans buy their wines.

Wine Intelligence reports that 58 per cent of regular wine drinkers purchased wine in a supermarket such as Rewe or Edeka, 45 per cent in a discounter such as Aldi or Lidl, and 43 per cent in a hyper-market such as Kaufland and Marktkauf.

In comparison, 32 per cent purchased wine from a specialist wine store.

Still red wine is the biggest category in the German market just ahead of still white wine.

However, while red wine sales declined by 1 per cent, white wine sales increased by 1 per cent.

Champagne is the fastest growing category with sales up 2.7 per cent, but it has only a 0.4 per cent share of the market.

But, other sparkling wine is the third biggest category in the German market, with a large proportion taken up by the locally made Sekt.

Wine Intelligence research indicates there has been a significant increase in regular wine drinkers in Germany who ‘enjoy trying new and different styles of wine’, particularly among younger consumers.

A growing number of German consumers think their choice of wine is an important decision, suggesting that they are becoming more involved with wine.



Feed wheat trades above $450/tonne for the first time since April 2008

Feed grain prices continued to rise strongly during winter, driven by demand from livestock producers and the growing lot feeding sector.

While high numbers on feed and limited pasture growth should ensure demand for feed grain is sustained over the coming months, where the grain will be sourced, and at what price, is less certain.

The latest Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) crop report predicts a 12 per cent year-on-year fall in production for the national 2018–19 winter crop.

For the week ending on the 15th of September, Darling Downs feed wheat was up $105/tonne year-on-year, or 33per cent, to $445/tonne.

READ: Victoria scientists pave way for faster precision breeding of wheat

Darling Downs barley, $440/tonne, and sorghum, $407/tonne, have also experienced strong gains, with many indicators doubling since January 2017.

Prices for some grains have surpassed 10-year highs, and, are now comparable to those witnessed during the 2007–08 global food price crisis.

Turning to the September ABARES crop report, winter crop production for 2018–19 is forecast to be 9 per cent below the 20-year average.

Poor growing conditions in Queensland, NSW and Victoria should see production in these states fall by 38 per cent, 46 per cent and 29 per cent year-on-year respectively, while WA production is forecast to rise 12 per cent.

Winter crop production includes barley, canola, chickpeas, faba beans, field peas, lentils, linseed, lupins, oats, safflower, triticale and wheat.

National grain supply will rely heavily on WA this year, with state production expected to exceed 16,000kt.

WA production is forecast to account for 49 per cent of the national winter crop in 2018–19, compared to a five-year average of 37 per cent.

Since the September report was released, two widespread frost events occurred in the state’s grain belt over the weekend.

While the damage is yet to be fully assessed, early reports suggest WA production will still meet the needs of east coast demand.


Coles increases milk prices to help drought affected farmers

Coles has increased the price of its 3-litre own brand milk from $3.00 to $3.30 in all states to help drought affected farmers.

The price increase started in late-September and will be in place until the end of the year, with 100 per cent of the increase donated to farmers.

Coles and its customers have already committed about $12 million to drought relief, including $5m from the Coles nurture fund to assist drought-affected farmers.

Farmers affected by drought will receive the donations from the milk through the National Farmers’ Federation’s 2018 drought relief fund.

READ: Lamb wins big at Sydney Royal Taste of Excellence Awards despite drought

Coles has been partnering with the federation since 2012, to support Australian farmers.

Coles’ fresh milk is 100 per cent Australian.

For several years, Coles has sold a number of milk brands with a percentage of sales going to support dairy farmers in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

Customers could also make donations at any Coles checkout across Australia for the months of August and September, with Coles matching donations dollar for dollar.

Organisations such as the Australian Red Cross are also helping drought-stricken farmers by offering up the chance to apply for grants.

The Red Cross has $11million worth of grants to give out to farmers, farming families or farming-dependent contractors in drought-affected areas of NSW, ACT or Queensland.

Grants can help people meet household expenses, such as food, vehicle maintenance, school expenses, electricity, gas or rates, telephone expenses and dental or medical expenses.

New projects help Australian farmers with fight against pests

Farmers will now be able to fight against pest animals more effectively, with the help of new projects launched by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions. 

The 21 new research, development and extension projects will look at better ways of preventing, detecting and managing pest animals, including through the use of DNA.

Australian minister for agriculture David Littleproud said the government was contributing $20 million to the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions to help fund the projects.

“Farmers face huge costs, productivity losses and the spread of diseases at the hands of pests and weeds and keep fighting to stop them in their tracks. 

READ: Farming together study helps set higher milk price 

“The 21 projects target pest animals in particular and will look at new management tools, better strategic decision making as well as community engagement and education,” said Littleproud. 

“One project worth $1.84m will look at building a machine to test samples of water to identify traces of pest animal DNA in rapid time out in the field. This technology would help track down pests hiding below the surface like the Asian black-spined toad and red-eared slider turtle,” he said. 

“A $7.5m project will investigate how effective viruses are in managing pest rabbits. This will help inform the timing of virus release for maximum results and ensure we continue to get value out of the calicivirus virus. 

“Another project worth $4.2m will look at how to cost effectively manage deer by looking at their behaviour. Deer are an emerging threat in Australia and we need to understand their role in spreading diseases such as foot and mouth disease,” said Littleproud. 

The centre is also developing a 10-year plan to identify the priority areas in Australia’s war against weeds. 

Red meat exports have hit a high of $13.7 billion, superseding last year’s figures

In the year ending June 2018, Australian red meat, offal and livestock exports reached $13.78 billion.

This is up 13 per cent year-on-year and largely underpinned by an increase in cattle turn-off and higher smallstock prices, according to figures from Meat and Livestock Australia.

Beef export value didn’t surpass the drought years of 2014–2016, but it was the third highest financial year on record at $7.96b.

With lamb prices smashing records in recent months, lamb exports reached a record $2.27b, and mutton followed suit at $1.02b.

READ: Australia’s sheepmeat exports to China saw the largest ever start to the year

Combined sheep and beef offal exports broke records at $778 million, while live cattle and sheep exports accounted for significant portions, at $1.268m and $259m respectively.

Japan, the US, Korea and China continued to underpin the value of beef exports, with the four largest markets accounting for 75 per cent of export value.

Similarly, the Middle East and North Africa, the US and China accounted for 66 per cent of sheep meat export value.

Live cattle exports remain focused on Southeast Asia, reflecting the level of development across key markets and proximity to northern Australia, while sheep exports remain concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa, underpinned by demand for religious slaughter.

National cattle slaughter has increased, due to challenging drought conditions.

National cattle slaughter for July totalled just over 712,000 head, bringing the year-to-date total to 4.5 million head, up 21 per cent year-on-year.

Female slaughter has continued to be a driving force in this increase, making up 54 per cent of the national kill in July, up five percentage points on July 2017.

The 12-month rolling average for July was 48 per cent.

Typically, the Australian cattle herd is considered to be in a contraction phase when the proportion of female slaughter exceeds 47 per cent of total slaughter over a 12-month rolling average.


Equity crowdfunding business will help farming community in Queensland

A Brisbane-based ethical food business, which helps connect local farmers with local buyers, plans to be Australia’s first community-owned food hub.

Food Connect, based at Salisbury in Brisbane’s south, is one of the first companies in Queensland to sign up to crowdfunding platform PledgeMe.

It joins a growing number of companies around the world giving the community an opportunity to be investors.

Food Connect shed director Robert Pekin started the company in 2005 after he lost his fourth-generation dairy farm.

READ: Australian farming sector holding up, despite ongoing drought

Since then, he has been on a mission to create a fairer food system for farmers and buyers.

“We ethically and transparently engage local farmers to supply ecological food that is in season and super fresh and we pay them about four times the amount of the big food chains, so more of the customer’s dollar goes directly to the growers,” said Pekin.

“Over the last thirteen years Food Connect has worked with over 80 local farmers, 40 local producers, and generated over $25 million in revenue for the local food economy.

“The warehouse we’ve been leasing for more than ten years is now for sale and we’ve been offered the chance to buy it. We have the experience to run the space, we just need the funds to help make that happen,” he said.

Food Connect shed director Emma-Kate Rose said local food hubs were a growing movement internationally.

“We want to start the first one here in Queensland. We want the community to come on this journey with us, we want them to be part of a fairer food system, we want them to help make a difference for our local farming community, we want the public to own the infrastructure,” said Rose.

“We we could have gone down a more traditional capital raising route, but we wanted to offer the shares to a wider, more diverse group of potential investors like the community that has been supporting us for the past decade.

“We have always been driven by community, it’s only natural to be owned by it too.”

PledgeMe recently expanded to Australia and is Queensland’s first equity crowdfunding business to be based in the state thanks to the Queensland government’s advance Queensland HotDesq initiative.

It’s also one of only nine across Australia so far to secure one of the ground-breaking licenses from the Australian securities and investments commission early this year.

Co-founder Anna Guenther said PledgeMe has had more than $28 million pledged to date in New Zealand.

“We’ve seen everything from a group of local citizens raise $2m in 32 hours to buy a chocolate company in Dunedin to keep chocolate making skills and jobs in the town, through to the world’s youngest equity crowdfunder, Indy Griffiths, raising $50,000 at 19 years old,” said Guenther.

The PledgeMe campaign launched on the 21st of August.

The campaign will run until the 21st of September or when the campaign is fully subscribed.


Australian farming sector holding up, despite ongoing drought

Drought in New South Wales and Queensland is becoming increasingly severe but overall, Australia’s farming sector is holding up well, Growth Farms Australia confirms.

Growth Farms Australia managing director David Sackett said farmers had good operating results and land appreciation over the past few years, which gave them the opportunity to go into the drought in good shape.

Drought was a normal part of the cycle and many farmers had developed “very good strategies” for coping with it, said Sackett.

According to the Australian Farmland Index, since 2014, farm sector income has grown by 6.2 per cent a year and capital appreciation has grown by 6.8 per cent a year, contributing to a total return of 13.2 per cent a year for the sector.

READ: NSW government offers more funding for drought-stricken farmers

Sackett said there was evidence that farmers had used returns in the good years to put a significant amount of their earnings aside to help them through difficult times.

At June 30, the total holdings in the farm management deposits scheme were $6.62 billion.

FMD savings have grown from $4.14 billion in June 2014. In June 1999 total deposits were just $200 million.

The scheme is a risk management tool designed to help primary producers deal with uneven cash flows, allowing them to claim a deduction for deposits that are held in the account for a minimum of 12 months.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences has forecast the value of farm production will increase by 1.5 per cent to $61 billion in the 2018/19 financial year.

The value of livestock production is forecast to increase by 3 per cent, while the value of crop production is forecast to remain unchanged, although these forecasts may be hard to achieve given how the current season is unfolding.

“We have seen a lot of government reviews of drought policy; there has been a lot of work on this and there have been plenty of good ideas. The problems seems to be that once we get into the drought, we get all sorts of pressure and we go back to developing policy on the run,” he said.

“We confuse the issue of supporting people who are doing it tough and need welfare, with supporting businesses. The first should be given, the second is a retrograde step,” said Sackett.

When it comes to investing in the sector there are areas that are more prone to volatility and commodities that produce different returns over time.

Managing this volatility requires an understanding of production correlations across regions and price correlations of commodities. For example, southern Queensland and western Victoria have a negative production correlation historically, while prices for beef and wheat also have a negative correlation.

“It is never the case that all regions and all commodities are affected by environmental factors in the same way at the same time,” said Sackett.

“As a portfolio manager, one of the things we look for is flexibility of land use, as it creates options for farming enterprises,” he said.

Growth Farms Australia has recently launched the Australian agricultural lease fund, open to wholesale investors, with a minimum investment of $100,000.

It is a closed-end unit trust with a term of 10 years, although unitholders will have an opportunity to vote on continuing the fund or winding it up after five years.

The fund will acquire farmland and water rights in higher rainfall regions, including North Queensland, Northern New South Wales, the Southern Murray Darling Basin, Victoria and Tasmania and South Australia.


Global search underway for Internet of Things trials in Victoria

 The Victorian government has begun a global search to find cutting-edge AgTech to support its on-farm Internet of Things (IoT) trial.

The search began on the 3rd of August, as part of the government’s $27-million investment in digital agriculture.

It will investigate issues from network connectivity through to on-farm IoT applications.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford said AgTech was the next revolution in farming.

READ: Internet of Things changes the way trade services operate

“We’re proud to the lead the way, giving Victorian farmers the best tools available to capitalise on the world stage,” she said.

“Agtech, including IoT, has the capacity to change the agricultural landscape for decades to come – so we’re doing the research on the ground to ensure it can deliver the results it promises for Victorians.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for farmers and agtech providers to get down to the nitty-gritty of what works and what doesn’t, breaking down barriers such as a lack of connectivity, skills and capital to invest,” said Pulford.

The government has asked companies to submit tenders to build IoT networks that will enable farmers to participate in the trial, which will cover Victoria’s major agricultural sectors of dairy, horticulture, meat production and broad-acre cropping.

Tenders are being sought for the establishment of IoT networks for each of the four trial regions – around Maffra, Tatura, Serpentine and Birchip – to provide the connectivity needed to enable the use of on-farm IoT solutions.

Soon, agriculture IoT providers will be able to submit proposals to supply applications and devices for the four farm types included in the trial.

Farmers participating in the trial will be able to select IoT solutions to trial on their farm, with financial support from Agriculture Victoria.

The IoT solutions used in the trial will help farmers make more informed decisions and improve farm performance by providing greater information through monitoring of farm variables.

The trial part of the government’s Connecting Victoria initiative, which is ensuring regional communities are digitally connected through free public WiFi pilots, new towers to fix mobile blackspots and the $45m connecting regional communities program to address regional priorities.