Export fees ‘unwelcome’ burden on agricultural industry
An indefinite postponement on horticultural export fees has come as welcome news for Southern Downs growers already struggling in a competitive international market.
The Department of Agriculture had flagged July 1 for the introduction of new export costs for the horticulture industry, which could have seen an average 44 per cent increase across all fees.
However due to coronavirus, an industry consultation in March had been cancelled, postponing the expected hike, according to a Department of Agriculture spokesperson.
"We no longer expect changes to the current charges from July 1, 2020. We are monitoring the situation and will provide an update … once the next steps have been determined," the spokesperson said.
Prominent bodies such as the Australian Horticultural Exporters' and Importers' Association (AHEIA) said the proposed model, if pushed ahead again, would be "very unwelcome"on the back of coronavirus and drought.
Stanthorpe strawberry grower Brendon Hoyle agrees.
"Anything that puts more pressure on the viability of farming, especially in these times, is not a good idea," he said.
"I mean it's hard enough trying to cope with all the other changes, weather patterns and the pressures of variability and exporting is such a fine line anyway.
"It depends on where the Australian dollar is trading at - that can make or break a transaction."
Mr Hoyle, who manages Ashbern Farms, and exports primarily to Singapore and New Zealand said an increase would put additional financial burden on local producers to hold competitive against other global leaders.
"To hear it still may go up is not a good sign, especially if we're tying to increase export or promote that side of production," he said.
"When you're talking about industries that are heavily labour intensive - non-mechanised commodity crops like ours where strawberries are picked and packed by people - the labour cost one of the most significant and when the export market is open globally, we're often against other economies where those production costs are less than us."
The future of exporting, according to Mr Hoyle, would depend on a dedicated government focus.
"Australia has a wonderful name overseas for produce but unfortunately that's not enough to carry it. It comes down to making a profit," he said.
"Exporting is still a market than can be better streamlined - there's a lot of opportunities there - but we still have work to do."