Darling Downs squash farmers have made a significant international breakthrough by producing a crop of export-standard squash (kabocha) for the Japanese consumer market, where the vegetable is a dietary staple.
Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner said the export win was welcome news for jobs as the state begins its COVID-19 recovery.
“Like the rest of the world, Queensland has been hit hard by the global pandemic, but our agricultural sector has been one of the shining lights,” Mr Furner said.
“New export opportunities like this one can only be good for jobs and the long-term growth of our agricultural sector.”
Mr Furner said squash had previously not been grown commercially in Australia, however the two Darling Downs growers had now opened the door to the $108 million dollar export market into Japan.
“The first shipment of our product has arrived successfully in Japan – a deal that has been years in the making,” Mr Furner said.
“The kabocha squash looks like a pumpkin but, unlike many pumpkin varieties, it is perfect for microwave ready meals because it maintains structure, taste and firmness when cooked.”
He said that currently Mexico and New Zealand dominated the Japanese kabocha market, but the Queensland Government had been working with a Japanese importer to carve out a slice of the lucrative trade.
“Through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) Growing Queensland’s Food Exports (GQFE) program, Qualipac has partnered with growers, the importer, Trade and Investment Queensland (TIQ), and the University of Queensland (UQ) to make this shipment happen,” said Mr Furner.
“Once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, the GQFE project team plans to visit New Zealand and Mexico to analyse production and supply chain efficiencies to enhance export opportunities.”
Qualipac’s Sales, Marketing and Business Development Manager, Kees Versteeg said the first shipment of squash was a significant breakthrough for all involved.
“We had had to learn how to grow kabocha, when to harvest it, and invest in new export packaging to meet the rigorous specifications of the Japanese market,” he said.
“It has been a steep learning curve for everyone. We have been very fortunate to have the Japanese importer working with us and giving advice every step of the way, including support from their existing suppliers.
“This project serves as a great example of a strategic approach to exporting with government and industry working together in partnership to open up new markets and new product opportunities.”
General Manager Vegetables, Wismettac, Mr Fumiya, who has been working with the GQFE team, said he was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the shipment.
“The Queensland kabocha has very good sugar levels, and this is important to the Japanese consumer as they like kabocha to be sweet tasting”, Mr Fumiya said.
“Our company is very impressed with how the Queensland government has worked together with us and the growers on this new enterprise.
“We are hoping to do another trial later this year and we see Queensland’s supply window fitting in well with our existing suppliers.”