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Monday, December 12, 2005

Tassie cherry trade blossoms in Japan

The Mercury: Tassie cherry trade blossoms in Japan [13dec05]

A TASMANIAN cherry grower has done the equivalent of selling ice to eskimos by selling Japanese cherries to Japan.

Reid Fruits' first batch of Japanese cherries leaves for Tokyo today, bound for speciality store shelves by Friday.

Managing director Tim Reid said the trial shipment was only half a tonne but expected it to grow to 100 tonnes in three or four years.

"This is a triumph for Tasmania and the culmination of about six years of work," Mr Reid said.

The shipment is also vindication for Mr Reid, who was accused by a Japanese local government body of taking trees illegally.

The dispute with the Yamagata prefectural government has now been resolved, and Mr Reid said they would work together for everyone's benefit in the future.

"In a twist of fate the problem has had a very positive spin-off," he said.

"If we had 1000 tonnes of cherries to sell at the moment we could sell them."

Today's shipment of cherries will fill a gap in the market, with no Japanese cherries available at this time of year.

The cherries will go into specialty stores and a few supermarkets where they will fetch up to $100 a kilogram, compared with a top price of $25 for Australian cherries in the local market.

Mr Reid said Japan was a real niche market, offering a significant premium.

It would also pave the way for future business in Japan.

"We have a number of people here from Japan watching the harvesting and they believe the quality here is better than those grown in Japan," he said.

"The cherries are fully coloured and a little larger than they are used to and they are very impressed with the quality."

Negotiations between the Australian and Japanese governments about the importation of cherries had taken about four years, with approval received this year.

Mr Reid said the company had been working with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries on the technical side and the Department of Economic Development to make the first shipment a reality.

"It is a big thing for Tasmania, despite this first shipment being fairly small," he said.

Once the Japanese cherry project is in full swing, Mr Reid says the company will employ about 400 people to pick cherries between December and February.

Another 100 could be employed in a new export centre Reid Fruits is planning.

"We are also on a planting program to extend our cherry orchards to 100 hectares, which will see us become the biggest cherry grower in Australia," he said.


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