COVID-19: Exporters struggle as pandemic continues

NOT only has the coronavirus pandemic been a health crisis, but exporters across the region have been left with excess stock and cancelled sales opportunities. Home grown Australian products are regularly exported from the Central West across the globe with wine, grain, meat and minerals among the items sent overseas.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have stopped exports of wine from Orange to China for a while, but the region's vignerons say there's a silver lining to the crisis.

China is the number one destination for wine exported from the colour city, winemaker and Orange Region Vignerons' Association (ORVA) vice president Justin Jarrett said.

"It's about 60 per cent of the export market from Orange," he said.

In Orange, around six of the region's vignerons export regularly, including Angullong Wines, Cumulus Vineyards, Philip Shaw Wines, Printhie Wines, Ross Hill Wines and See Saw Wines.

"The domestic market is still number one for all these brands, but export plays a role where you're trying to not have all your eggs in one basket," Mr Jarrett said.

Not only is wine exported from Orange to China, it's also sent to the United Kingdom, European Union and Japan.

EXPORT MARKET: Orange Region Vignerons' Association vice president Justin Jarrett said around 60 per cent of the export market from Orange goes to China. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN

EXPORT MARKET: Orange Region Vignerons' Association vice president Justin Jarrett said around 60 per cent of the export market from Orange goes to China. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN

The United States was recently added to the list with See Saw Wines sending pinot noir, shiraz and chardonnay to an American distributor.

"We all aspire for Orange to be recognised as a super premium region, and if you want that recognition you have to be an exporter," Mr Jarrett said.

There may be many challenges for businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, but he said the low Australia dollar was a "silver lining" for the region's vignerons who export.

"We can deliver really good quality wine at a good price point if the value of the Australian dollar stays low," he said.

We can deliver really good quality wine at a good price point if the value of the Australian dollar stays low.

Orange Region Vignerons' Association (ORVA) vice president Justin Jarrett

Mr Jarrett said the pursuit of a "clean, green product" by consumers and distributors will only increase due to coronavirus.

"We can compete fantastically on quality and on traceability," he said.

"That uniqueness will be even more saleable as a region than it was before."

Angullong Wines owner Ben Crossing exports around 20 per cent of his wine to China and the European Union each year.

"There's several trade fairs that we'd usually attend in China at this time of year that we didn't go to because they were cancelled," Mr Crossing said.

"It's a market you've got to keep persisting with if you want to get in there.

"We've had a presence there for the last eight years ... we've got a distribution network with markets over there."

There's several trade fairs that we'd usually attend in China at this time of year that we didn't go to because they were cancelled.

Angullong Wines owner Ben Crossing

For the past four years Angullong has been among the feature wineries at the annual Wine Australia China Roadshow, but this event was also was cancelled.

The roadshow sees dozens of Australian winemakers join forces for a four-city tour to promote their wines and Mr Crossing had planned to take part this year.

Bathurst company Grainforce regularly exports food and fibre to South East Asia and in an average year sends 100,000 tonnes of wheat overseas.

TOUGH YEAR: The coronavirus pandemic is not the only major factor that's made 2020 a tough year so far, Grainforce managing director Derek Larnach said.

TOUGH YEAR: The coronavirus pandemic is not the only major factor that's made 2020 a tough year so far, Grainforce managing director Derek Larnach said.

Not only has this company been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, its troubles exporting began in December.

"It started well before coronavirus, the rail line between Sydney and Bathurst was closed for four weeks because of the bushfires," Grainforce managing director Derek Larnach said.

Then, not long after the route was reopened heavy rainfall in the Blue Mountains caused a landslide which closed the tracks again.

Shortly after, just as they were beginning to be able to freight stock to port again, the COVID-19 pandemic occurred.

"It made shipping overseas more expensive and more difficult because there was less ships ... the cost went up and they were going to less ports," Mr Larnach said.

It's going to be fairly trying times for many business and it'll be a sobering process.

Grainforce managing director Derek Larnach

At the receiving end, restrictions in these countries meant products began to stockpile.

"They weren't using any product because they couldn't process it because they were in lockdown and the factories weren't operating," Mr Larnach said.

"Everything's definitely quieter. It's a little bit more difficult, as it is with any business, but one good thing with food is that people will always need it."

Looking ahead, Mr Larnach said there is a lot of uncertainties for business as the pandemic continues.

"It's going to be fairly trying times for many business and it'll be a sobering process," he said.

Help is on hand to get to market

THE closure of international borders and increased freight costs may have impacted Orana's exporters, but good rains and a low Australia dollar will help the region.

The coronavirus pandemic has had significant impacts on mining, agricultural and manufacturing exporters, Regional Development Australia (RDA) Orana export development manager Megan Dixon says.

"It impacted the supply chains and in particular the freight routes," she said.

"There's less available air freight. Exports on air freight have dried up as a result of that.

"We're hearing the cost of freight has increased and we do have some concerns about that and we've giving that feedback to the government."

There's less available air freight. Exports on air freight have dried up as a result of that.

Regional Development Australia Orana export development manager Megan Dixon

However, while there were initial shut downs, Ms Dixon said things have improved and recent good rainfall will help.

"While there has been a short term impact, I actually think it's not all doom and gloom," she said.

Thanks to good rainfall, she said farmers are now able to sow crops and this will boost production in the agriculture.

"There will be opportunities for what's grown and produced," she said.

Ms Dixon said some exporters in the region use expert supply chain managers who can assist companies with getting their products overseas.

She said they can assist with areas including inventory control and supply chain management.

"They'll specialise in products and focus on markets, for example they might focus on beef and wine between China and Australia," Ms Dixon said.

They're kind of like a matchmaker and they can take some of the pain out of it as they work for the business.

Regional Development Australia Orana export development manager Megan Dixon

"They're kind of like a matchmaker and they can take some of the pain out of it as they work for the business.

"They will support a business in terms of negotiating sales."

On April 1, 2020 the Australian Government announced the $110 million International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) as a temporary measure to help restore critical global supply chains which have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 containment measures around the world.

IFAM will enable essential imports such as medical supplies and the export of high-value agriculture and fisheries products and other items of national interest.

A network of 15 freight forwarders and air freight service providers has been established to support the delivery of the IFAM.

To access the IFAM you need to register your interest. Visit www.austrade.gov.au to find out more.

Toilet paper gate extends to chemicals

ON THE LAND: Bathurst grazier David McKay and Orange orchardist Guy Gaeta said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to panic-buying among farmers.

ON THE LAND: Bathurst grazier David McKay and Orange orchardist Guy Gaeta said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to panic-buying among farmers.

IT'S not just toilet paper that people have been panic-buying during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many chemicals used by farmers across the region are imported into Australia, including from places like China.

Bathurst grazier David McKay said good rainfall has coincided with the COVID-19 crisis, leading to a rush on farmers buying up chemicals to sow crops.

"It was a bit like toilet paper and everyone was buying up Glyphosate," he joked of how Australians rushed out to buy toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic.

"Because of the drought breaking everyone's going mad putting in crops, there's been a huge demand on herbicides."

It was a bit like toilet paper and everyone was buying up Glyphosate.

Grazier and NSW Farmers Association Bathurst branch president David McKay

Mr McKay, who is also the NSW Farmers Association Bathurst branch president, said some chemical imports had already been held up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orchardist Guy Gaeta said with so much uncertainty in the world due to coronavirus, that he has recently purchased a year's worth of chemicals to use at his property in Orange.

"I bought enough stuff so we could do our next cherry crop [in November/December], I spent around $20,000," he said.

"I went out and bought a couple of hundred litres of Round Up because that comes from China.

"There's nothing certain with coronavirus, everyone's saying there could be a second wave."

While Mr Gaeta's cherry crop will not be ready until later this year, he is already concerned that COVID-19 restrictions may mean he will not be able export his crop.

"If we can't export then the market will be flooded and they'll be worthless," he said.

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This story Central West exporters struggle as COVID-19 pandemic continues first appeared on Western Magazine.