Imports leave sour taste for NQ grower

Citrus industry could boom further in Far North Queensland

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POTENTIAL: Qld lime grower Karen Muccignat, Mutchilba is receiving the lowest prices ever for her limes at this time of year due to supply and demand issues. Photo: Jole Muccignat

POTENTIAL: Qld lime grower Karen Muccignat, Mutchilba is receiving the lowest prices ever for her limes at this time of year due to supply and demand issues. Photo: Jole Muccignat

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Nth Qld lime growers fear a lack of export opportunities will stifle growth.

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LIME growers on Queensland's Atherton Tableland fear a lack of export opportunities will stifle future growth of the region's burgeoning citrus industry.

Citrus fruits bring in about $55 million annually to the region, and more growers are looking to tap into the industry to compliment their mango and avocado crops.

The Tablelands is home to Australia's largest lime production, with growers supplying an estimated 11,680 tonnes annually, valued at $47 million.

A Queensland Government snapshot of the industry shows there was 558 hectares of mature lime orchards in 2018, with 257 ha of new trees and another 115 ha proposed by 2023.

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But Mutchilba grower Karen Muccignat, who has been growing limes alongside her mango plantation for three decades, said new markets needed to be opened to ensure the future viability of the industry.

Mrs Muccignat and husband Andrew have two 40 hectare farms in the district, with lime trees covering about 15 hectares.

Her family was one of the first to start growing limes in the district following the deregulation of the tobacco industry.

"We used to grow tobacco here and we were always looking for new crops to diversity into and could see the writing on the wall for tobacco," Mrs Muccignat said.

"The limes have been a fairly viable crop for us to grow and we seem to be able to harvest year round.

"Our advantage up here with limes is that we are out of season for the southern growers when it gets too cold, they're a tropical fruit so there are ideal growing conditions up here for the lime industry."

CROP: Mutchilba grower Karen Muccignat with some of her limes. Photo: Jole Muccignat.

CROP: Mutchilba grower Karen Muccignat with some of her limes. Photo: Jole Muccignat.

Mrs Muccignat said the industry was growing as people looked to diversify, which would bring its own set of challenges going forward.

"It is a bit concerning the number of plantings going in at the moment, whether or not the market can sustain that volume into the future."

Mrs Muccignat said currently, lime growers only had access to the domestic market, which may not have the capacity to sustain future growth.

She said a recent government decision to allow imports from Mexico in particular, was concerning.

"The government is starting to allow imports in from other countries, which we are very nervous about considering we don't have access to export.

"It is concerning given the number of young trees going in in the district, whether the domestic market can sustain the viability for the new markets up here."

A Department of Agriculture and Fisheries study from October 2018 show there are 124 citrus growers spread across 1133 hectares on the Tablelands three main growing areas, Mareeba, Dimbulah and central Tablelands.

While limes are the most prominent citrus variety grown, there are also lemons, pummelo, mandarin, orange and grapefruit.

FNQ Growers chair, Joe Moro, said the region's citrus industry was a major player in the Australian and Queensland markets.

"We are home to Australia's largest lime and pummelo production regions, and Queensland's largest producer of red-fleshed oranges," Mr Moro said.

"There is significant expansion underway in all citrus categories, apart from oranges, particularly in the Dimbulah region."

Mr Moro said while the study quantified the industry, it also highlighted the need for industry to undertake research and development work to support the industry's continued growth.

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