Qld squash hits sweet spot for Japan

Thursday, 16 July, 2020

Qld squash hits sweet spot for Japan

Darling Downs growers have produced a crop of export-standard squash (kabocha) that has been sent to Japan, where it is a dietary staple. The kabocha squash looks like a pumpkin, but unlike many pumpkin varieties, is suitable for microwave ready meals because it maintains structure, taste and firmness when cooked. Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said the export was welcome news for jobs as the state recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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. The health response is ongoing, and we are starting to deliver Queensland’s plan to Unite and Recover for Queensland Jobs. New export opportunities like this one can only be good for jobs and the long-term growth of our agricultural sector,” Furner said.

Squash had not previously been grown commercially in Australia; however, two growers have opened the door to the export market into Japan.

“The first shipment of our product has arrived successfully in Japan — a deal that has been years in the making. Currently, Mexico and New Zealand completely dominate the Japanese kabocha market, but the Queensland Government has been working in partnership with our industry and a Japanese importer to carve out a slice of this lucrative trade,” Furner said.

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 to enable the shipment to happen. Once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, the GQFE project team will visit New Zealand and Mexico to analyse production and supply chain efficiencies to enhance export opportunities.

Kees Versteeg, Sales, Marketing and Business Development Manager for Qualipac, described the first shipment as a significant breakthrough.

“We 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. 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,” Versteeg said.

Versteeg described the project as an example of a strategic approach to exporting, with the government and industry working together to open up new markets and product opportunities.

Mr Fumiya, General Manager Vegetables, Wismettac, 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. We are hoping to do another trial later this year and we see Queensland’s supply window fitting in well with our existing suppliers,” Fumiya said.

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