CITRUS orchards were being bulldozed three years ago in many areas of the Riverina, but now they are being replanted just as quick as Chinese demand drives an export surge in the citrus industry.
It’s not hard to see evidence of the turnaround. Just go down to your local fruiterer and ask how much they are paying for a box of mandarins. For instance, a fruiterer in Wollongong explained a box of mandarins sells for $20 at Flemington markets in Sydney, but goes for $35 a box in China.
Driving into Griffith, the resurgence in the industry is immediately noticeable right up to the edge of town where new orchard plantings sit beside the railway line on the deep clay loam soils.
It’s a long-term investment. In can take up to 10 years before a new tree will deliver edible fruit. But everyone is excited about the new export interest and just hoping that there is not another boom and bust cycle.
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More and more orchards are going in from navels oranges to mandarins to lemons.
The Chinese demand is largely for navel oranges with red centres, known as Cara Cara. The mainstay of the citrus industry, the Washington navel, is also still popular.
Chinese customers are so interested and demanding of quality they travel to Australia to watch the harvesting and packing on specific orchards.
That’s the case at Pacific Fresh, located between Yanco and Leeton with a Chinese customer currently overlooking packing. Pacific Fresh packs about 60 container loads of citrus a year for export, with another 40-50 containers going through their preferred exporter and packer Mildura Fruit Company.
Pacific Fresh is owned and managed by 8 shareholders and directors, most of them third generation farmers, who together own up to 728ha of citrus varieties and grape vines.
Director Gerry Papasidero said he was crossing his fingers the new interest in citrus from overseas was not just another boom and bust cycle.
Nevertheless, Pacific Fresh was going to expand its plantings, 242ha of new orchards this year and maybe the same next year.
“At the moment there are new plantings going up everywhere around Griffith. But if Chinese demand falls over that would be a worry,” he said.
Frost had been a concern with last year’s harvest, but quality and taste had held up. Pacific Fresh will use 95 per cent of its water allocation this year and the same next year.
Carlo Mandaglio of Oz Sun Citrus at Corbie Hilll, east of Leeton, said the industry was returning from a glut of domestic citrus a number of years ago, when Australia was swamped with citrus imports and there was little export demand. But the Chinese demand had turned the industry around, both domestically and internationally.
The Mandaglios don’t export, but the upswing in the export industry had lifted their domestic bottom line and they are planning orchard expansion. With picking underway, the harvest was lighter but quality was good after a hard summer.