FOR NICHE CROPS, oversupply can destroy an industry, as can competition.
The dragon-fruit industry is no exception, with farmers questioning the long term viability of the crop in light of imported fruits.
Attendees of the Northern Food Futures conference had the opportunity due to ANZ sponsorship, to visit Australia’s largest dragonfruit producer to hear their story.
Karlsson fruits, farm manager, Phil Singleton said the owner, Markus Karlsson, originally purchased two farms planted to mango’s, and after exploring crop options, travelled to Singapore and chose dragonfruit.
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“He was looking for something nobody else had, so he bought planting material back and carried out his own research and development,” Mr Singleton said.
“We’ve been growing dragonfruit for about 16 years.”
Mr Singleton said three dragonfruit plants are grown against each individual pole and they have about 2,500 poles in place.
“If you plant at the right time of year, you can pick fruit within eight months,” he said.
“By year three you are looking at full production.
Mr Singleton said the fruit harvest runs for about 5 months from October, through the wet season.
”A few years ago we had our best year, a tray runs to 4.5 kg and we picked 18,000 trays,” he said.
“But that was in a small wet season, which they prefer, in a big wet season we come back to about 10,000 trays.”
Mr Singleton said all their fruit is sold domestically, however biosecurity measures such as the use in methyl bromide to fumigate fruit in South Australia was problematic.
“With our tray packs it isn’t to bad, but our second grade fruit goes into a 10kg enclosed boxes and they can’t degas them well enough so they break down very quickly,” he said.
Mr Singleton said oversupply was one of the biggest issues to the industry.
“We have, and can, flood the Australian market just from these two small farms,” he said.
“You send away 20 pallets of packed fruits and think ‘you beauty’
“But then, because there is that much fruit on the market, the price drops.
“With the imports from Vietnam, which started last year, we now receive close to half what we used to get.
“So that knocked us around.
“In the coming season we may be competing against imported fruit from Indonesia as well.”
Mr Singleton said supply of imported fruit occurred at the same time as the local pick, so it was not a matter of allowing in fruit out of season.
“We got knocked around with our pricing last year and lost a lot of income.
“We think we will give it one more year and see what happens.
“We might have to start looking at other things.”
Sharon O’Keeffe travelled as a guest of conference sponsor ANZ.