14 Sep 2017

Booming Australian citrus industry short of fruit

This article was featured in abc.net.au

Citrus growers around Australia are experiencing a boom, with demand and prices predicted to beat records for the third year running.

As the industry hits peak harvest and the middle of its export season, industry professionals are discovering there is not enough fruit to meet the global demand.

Sales manager for Mildura Fruit Company, Australia’s largest citrus packer and exporter, Marcus Scott, said it was struggling to keep up.

He said China, Japan and, to a lesser degree, North Asia are Australia’s bread and butter and it was hard to ignore the price they were willing to pay.

Mr Scott said although the size of some fruit was down and would not meet the premium markets, other countries were still prepared to pay.

A bright future for citrus

Part of the increased global demand is because a bacterial disease had affected crops in South America.

On top of that, the combination of reduced tariffs and a strong Asian economy have added to the surge in Australian exports.

South Australian citrus grower Peter Hill is based in the Riverland, and exports more than 60 per cent of the fruit from his Loxton property overseas.

He said this year’s yield, fruit quality, and price were looking great.

Mr Hill said he, like many citrus growers, has had his fair share of challenges but he was confident this strong phase was here to stay.

Australian growers’ renewed confidence

Health benefits are also driving demand with new research out of Japan showing citrus fruit can reduce the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimers by almost one quarter.

Citrus Australia chief executive Judith Damiani said the industry had experienced this buoyant phase over the past couple of years, but this year was unprecedented.

“We hope to see perhaps another record broken this year,” she said.

“We can’t supply enough at the moment, so that is really driving a lot of confidence back into the industry.”

Ms Damiani said she had never seen it like this in her 23 years in the industry, and it was not only exported fruit that was tasting sweet rewards.

A shortage of the juicing variety, valencia, which was once unprofitable, is now putting cash back into growers pockets.

Ms Damiani said many growers up-rooted their valencia trees due to a historical decline, and the few who kept their trees were now reaping the rewards.

“Supply will become more of an issue for Australian juice production, fresh juice production,” she said.

“It’s great to see the industry in such a buoyant phase and in an expansion phase as well, considering we’ve had a tough decade.”

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