Ag export boost for Far North

Cairns Airport's international produce exports set to double in a decade

An artist impression of the planned Cairns Regional Trade Distribution Centre.

An artist impression of the planned Cairns Regional Trade Distribution Centre.


An agricultural export boon could be in line for the Far North with plans afoot to double international produce exports from Cairns Airport over the next decade.


AN agricultural export boon could be in line for the Far North with plans afoot to double international produce exports from Cairns Airport over the next decade.

Key food products including seafood, horticultural tree crops, vegetables and beef cattle are expected to be the big growth areas, which would see international exports more than double to $120 million by 2030.

China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia have been named as stand-out markets, according to the new report from Advance Cairns and the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia released today.

The potential for export growth through Cairns hedges on the right mix of investment in supply chains, infrastructure and marketing.

Advance Cairns executive chairman Nick Trompf said increased sector collaboration and building on existing and planned infrastructure such as the Regional Trade Distribution Centre being built at Cairns airport would deliver significant future economic and employment gains for Far North Queensland.

"This research supports our long-standing view that while the agricultural and seafood sectors are critical industries for FNQ, they can play a much more significant role in growing our regional economy - especially as we move to recover from the impacts of COVID-19," Mr Trompf said.

"Our research reinforced that the bulk of exported FNQ product (except for live fish and lobster) goes south to be consolidated and treated before being flown back over our heads to Asian markets - and farmers often don't know their product is being exported by the middle man they've been supplying for many years.

"This means they're missing out on any price advantages associated with export and missing out on the opportunity to forge direct relationships with buyers.

"These relationships are needed to understand the needs of Asian consumers, which drives product innovation around things like value-adding, and to build resilience into the supply chain by growing awareness of and demand for our high quality FNQ produce.

"As a sector, if we can collaborate more openly, consolidate and brand our product regionally, then export direct to Asian buyers via air we can build a more robust supply chain that over time, will attract a price premium for our farmers."

The study was authored by globally renowned professional services firm, KPMG Australia, and guided by an experienced steering committee across a range of stakeholders in the Far North region.

KPMG's National Food and Agribusiness lead Robert Poole said collaboration was needed to achieve the stated objective of doubling high value food exports by 2030.

"With airlines increasingly moving from wide bodied to narrow bodied jets, collaboration will make or break the region's success as we need to be able to deliver reliable freight volumes to move the supply chain from passenger jets to dedicated freighters," Mr Poole said.

"We invite freight forwarders to embrace the opportunity to rethink the FNQ supply chain post-COVID and take the opportunity to help raise the profile of the FNQ agricultural brand."

CRCNA Chair Sheriden Morris said the FNQ agricultural supply chain project had paved the way for greater collaboration among producers, logistics providers and businesses across the region.

"By thinking about all the different players along a regional supply chain and identifying their common pain points and their common success it becomes clear that by working together in a coordinated way achieving an outcome which benefits all is much more likely to happen than if they continue to work in silos," Ms Morris said.

"I'm encouraged to see a key recommendation from this study is the implementation of an industry-led export 2030 supply chain taskforce, which will drive a coordinated FNQ region-specific infrastructure strategy and enable longer-term supply chain development."

The CRCNA has also completed two other regional agricultural supply chain projects for the Townsville/North Queensland and Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday regions.

Ms Morris said although those projects focused on their local supply chains each highlighted the need for greater collaboration across sectors and regions to better inform northern Australian supply chains more broadly.

"An important outcome of this work has been the development of a Northern Queensland Agricultural Supply Chain Alliance with representatives from Advance Cairns, Townsville Enterprise, Greater Whitsunday Alliance, Advance Rockhampton, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Central Queensland University coming together to progress this agenda," she said.

James Cook University and Charles Darwin University have also partnered to deliver a pan-northern examination of Northern Australia's agricultural supply chains, with a focus on the cost of freight in the region and this report is due later this year


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