Californian dried fruit processor drives up Australian prune prices
Updated 8 Apr 2015, 6:18am
Overseas interest in the Australian prune market has forced processors to pay more for local fruit this season.
Californian grower co-operative, Sunsweet, is buying 700 tonnes of dried plums from southern New South Wales this year, more than double 2014 exports to the US.
The co-op hopes to secure 5,000 tonnes of prunes from the region over the next five years.
Several growers in the Riverina have recently planted new plum trees, while others plan to upgrade fruit drying equipment to cater for increased demand from the world's biggest prune processor.
At Young, processor Verity has been watching California's entry into the market with interest.
This year it paid $2,600 a tonne for the largest prune grade, a 20 per cent increase on last season's prices.
Manager Chris Brook-Kelly said the price rise was inevitable.
"The Americans have been used as a lever, for want of a better way of putting it," Mr Brook-Kelly said.
"Which don't get me wrong, the price of prunes definitely had to improve because a few chaps had pushed trees out.
"Our biggest stumbling block will be being able to pass higher prices on."
About 20 kilometres south of Young, Jeff Granger is busy shifting pallets of tinned prunes from his Kingsvale packing shed to various markets in Melbourne.
He agrees growers need to be paid more for their fruit, but is wary of Sunsweet's long-term commitment to the region.
"I can understand why California is doing it," he said.
"But I can also see a day down the track, not too many years away when they say 'gee we're producing enough of our own now, we don't need yours.'
"We do a lot of importing from them and we know them very well."
However, Yenda grower and prune industry development officer Anne Furner isn't worried just yet.
"They (Sunsweet) have guaranteed that they're not here for the short term, they're here for the long term.
"I can't see it as a real bad thing for the Australian prune industry at the moment, I definitely think its a positive."
First posted 8 Apr 2015, 4:21am