A young Chinese exporter may hold the key to unlocking Asian markets for Orange’s annual cherry crop.
Vincent Chen, the 33-year-old son of a ceramics company family, is leading the Chinese charge into the Orange cherry industry.
Mr Chen owns the Homeward Bound orchard in Nashdale and another near Mudgee and has plans to expand his operations in Orange.
A permanent resident, he exports and buys cherries from Orange and Tasmania for both the Hong Kong and mainland China markets.
He said he had spent “roughly a few million, two, three, four million” in Orange so far and was excited about the local prospects.
“For me it’s very interesting. Actually I want to invest more in this area because, like Tasmania you have already got the reputation and at this time if you go to Tasmania there is no chance anymore,” he said.
“Orange is not as famous as Tasmania but the fruit quality is very good so I can see a big opportunity here.
“A few years later, three-four years later [if] we can unlock the door to China and people can recognise Orange, they will come and they will realise we give a good investment.”
This is his first harvest in Orange after moving to the Central West about three years ago.
He said he knew of only one other Chinese orchard owner in Orange but predicted more would come as the industry was attractive.
“I know there are two of us including me, two Chinese who own orchards here and I think there are around two or three Chinese who own orchards in Tasmania.”
Mr Chen said some were deterred by the complexity of running an orchard.
“Their biggest problem they have now is how to manage the property. Because it is not like the residential, you buy it and you just lease it,” he said.
“You need to keep putting money in, and you need to grow good fruit and you still need to have the channel to sell the fruit so it’s all-the-way-through the business.”
Mr Chen said his business ran over the entire Australian cherry season.
“I think people get used to it because this [the Orange harvest] is maybe only one month but actually for me I have another orchard in Mudgee as well. So in Mudgee they normally [pick] four weeks or three weeks earlier than Orange so I can have a longer season. I have two months to sell the fruit. If I keep sourcing fruit from Tasmania I can do the whole cherry season in Australia, which means around three months.”
“For the rest of the season I can go to other areas to do the trading Iike going to Mildura to do the table grapes, still using the same network in China to do other business.”
However he is not interested in other Orange crops.
“I concentrate on cherries because cherries they have the big demand in China.”
He said the Chinese preferred Australian cherries to those from trade rival Chile.
“So when we export to China we always look for the premium market, not sell to the supermarket, we sell at a high price. We only export big fruit, we don’t export small fruit.”
Mr Chen said the local industry was exciting.
“Definitely it can grow. Many export to Hong Kong because we don’t have the direct market access to China. Fiona [Hall, NSW Cherry Growers Association president] is working on that and I think all the growers in this area are working hard on that.
“Once we get the market access and open the door to China I think we can grow much much more cherries, the industry can grow a lot,” he said.