Though produce such as figs, edible flowers, and cherries are in high demand from increasingly affluent consumers across Asia, Australia fruit exporters are losing millions of dollars in potential sales due to a shortage of airfreight capacity out of the country.

One of the main problems is that the fruit producers have little bargaining power with the airlines as they export to Asia for only six weeks a year – the window for fruit exports is only six weeks after it has been picked – whereas dairy and meat exporters ship all year round, and are further prioritised due to higher margin yield.

In addition, the main demand for Australian fruit produce occurs during the Lunar New Year as they are popular gifts. This period is also a peak for Australian airfreight, reducing the already limited space available for fruit exports.

Access to airfreight is essential for Australian exporters. It takes two days to ship produce by air to China, but two weeks by sea – too long for produce such as peaches, cherries and asparagus, which would spoil during that period.

It is estimated that exporters have lost more than US$76 million in potential sales, according to David Minnis, a fruit and vegetable exporter from Melbourne, in a report.

According to Australian government export figures, rural goods including meat, fruit, vegetables, and cotton sent by sea and air totalled US$32.8 billion in the 12 months to August this year. Exports of farm produce, which accounts for nearly 13 percent of the country’s total exports, has grown by 37 percent during the last five years.

The simple answer would appear to be for airlines to add more freight capacity to accommodate the demand. However, there are strict aviation quota restrictions in place and entering a new market poses significant risk and cost for carriers.