THE first use of phytosanitary irradiation in Australian horticulture is expected to contribute to increased exports of fruit and vegetables to Asia.

Phytosanitary irradiation is described as “a chemical-free and heat-free alternative to traditional treatments for controlling insects and other pests in exported fruit and vegetables”.

Lockyer Valley fruit grower Ross Stuhmcke recently became the first Australian producer to ship persimmons to Thailand under new export protocols.

Mr Stuhmcke’s persimmon shipment departed Brisbane on one of the few remaining flights to Bangkok after the grounding of many international carriers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It reportedly sold out shortly after clearing customs in Thailand on 27 March.

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Growers also hope that the shipment will pave the way for other Queensland horticultural products to be exported to Thailand.

Teaming up to support the first shipment of phytosanitary persimmons were Trade and Investment Queensland, Persimmons Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Queensland), Austrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

TIQ principal trade and investment officer for Toowoomba and the Darling Downs, Bronwyn Warfield, said TIQ worked with Persimmons Australia to enable the shipment since December 2019.

“Achieving a successful shipment now amid the disruption caused to export markets by COVID-19 is a massive result,” Ms Warfield said.

“TIQ helped Persimmons Australia pull together a team of experts to facilitate the many steps involved in meeting the Thai protocol.

“It was very much a team effort with DAF, Austrade and DFAT all working together with industry to coordinate this shipment in very difficult conditions.”

Persimmons Australia president Chris Stillard said given the success of the shipment they would be seeking to expand exports in 2021.

“Now that we have proven this pathway, and with hopefully better weather conditions next year, we are looking forward to doing an extended trial in 2021,” he said.

Thailand imports around $23m of persimmons annually, making it a prime target growers. Australia has been a leader in the development and application of phytosanitary irradiation, which has increased in popularity as international markets have sought higher-quality fresh produce.

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