FRUIT and nuts are set to drive Australian horticulture's production value to $13.6 billion in 2022-23.
The healthy forecast comes from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences' (ABARES) Outlook 2018 agricultural commodities report for the March quarter, released today.
Much of that optimism comes from a rise in exports of Australian nuts and fruit, particularly to the seemingly insatiable Chinese appetite.
According to ABARES, the real gross value of fruit production is projected to increase from $3.9b in 2017–18 to $4.6b in 2022–23.
The curious parameter to the shining future is the fact Australia exported only 29pc of fruit production by value in 2015–16.
But emerging export markets and a depreciating dollar have driven industry expansion, the report says.
Tariff reductions and Free Trade Agreements with Asian nations, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are highlighted as important to current projections.
Selected summer fruits and grapes are singled out as big winners from the agreements.
"In 2017 new agreements between Australia and China resulted in additional market access for some Australian fruit, including peaches, plums and apricots," the report says.
"The agreements revised fumigation and cold-treatment protocols for table grapes and recognised Australia’s pest-free regions for citrus and cherries.
"Industries that benefit from improved market access are expected to grow at a faster rate than those that are more reliant on the domestic market.
"Growth is expected to be driven by increasing profitability from export returns, which will allow for on-farm investments to improve productivity and expand production."
The picture domestically is not quite as healthy for fruit with only "moderate growth" anticipated with increasing supply and diversity of fruit drives greater competition.
"Domestic fruit demand is expected to increase gradually as Australia’s population grows, but per person fruit consumption is not expected to increase significantly," ABARES says.
"As a result, increases in the supply of fruit are expected to outpace demand, leading to falling prices in real terms and intensifying competition between industries for a share of the retail market."
Credit is given to the anticipated response from the various fruit industries tackling the domestic oversupply with the competition "expected to drive innovation in marketing to help farmers differentiate their products based on quality and convenience".
The other powerhouse within horticulture is the nut industry, with ABARES putting the real gross value of Australian tree nut production to increase from just more than $1 billion in 2017–18 to $1.5b in 2022–23.
"Almonds and macadamia nuts account for most of this growth, followed by walnuts and hazelnuts.
The report is more sobering for vegetable growers however, stating that in 2016–17, the real value of Australian vegetable production is estimated to have decreased to $3.6b; a 2pc fall from the previous year.
"This was mainly due to the impact of Cyclone Debbie on Queensland production of beans, capsicums, tomatoes and other vegetables," the report said.
"Price increases resulting from scarce supply were insufficient to outweigh falls in production, leading to a lower gross value of production."
However in terms of going forward, the 2017–18 value of vegetable production is forecast to increase to $3.8b, mostly due to increases in the quantity of carrots, capsicums and tomatoes produced in Queensland, and bumper spring harvests along Australia’s east coast.
"An appreciating Australian dollar (assumed to average US78 cents in 2017–18) is expected to reduce vegetable exports and increase domestic supply, leading to falls in average prices," the report says.