ROLLING OUT THE ORANGE CARPET: Passengers arriving on the morning Virgin flight at Mildura Airport on Tuesday were given an unexpected treat in the form of a fresh, locally-grown navel orange as part of an initiative by Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel, right, to promote our district as a major fruit bowl. Pictured with Cr Eckel is Mildura Fruit Company Export Account manager Jon Watson.

MILDURA is famous for its citrus and dried fruits, along with olives, avocados, almonds and much more. In the view of Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel, however, we don’t showcase or promote it enough in our own city.

“I was in China recently and visited three prefectures, and I was impressed to see our citrus everywhere on display in market stalls and shops, one of which had a clever juice-making machine that dispensed freshly squeezed orange juice into a cup with a lid and handed you a straw,” Cr Eckel said.

“It made me think that we need to identify Mildura as a fruit bowl destination, so that when tourists and business people visit the city, they’ll see something that immediately says this is a major fruit growing region.”

As part of an initiative to establish this ‘tourism branding’, Cr Eckel was joined at Mildura Airport on Tuesday by Mildura Fruit Company (MFC) Export Account manager, Jon Watson, to welcome passengers off the Virgin flight arriving from Melbourne with a complimentary, Sunraysia-grown orange.

“Mildura Airport has become the gateway to Mildura thanks to the hard work of Airport manager Bill Burke and his team, who have driven record numbers of passenger arrivals into our region through their expansion of the airline schedules and the terminal and runway upgrades,” Cr Eckel said.

“I’d like to see our oranges on display at the airport and juice being freshly squeezed. Our citrus is making a big comeback and now is the time to really promote that.”

Mr Watson said MFC is packing fruit for several markets in Asia which are expanding at an enormous rate.

“China is our largest market, which includes Hong Kong, and to meet the strict import protocols set by the Chinese Government, we specify the orchard that fruit has come from with labelling on the carton to identify this,” he said.

“Mildura Fruit Company opened up that protocol almost five years ago, and it continues to operate smoothly today. Last year we shipped over one million cartons of citrus to China alone, it’s certainly a big market for us.”

Mr Watson said markets into China were doubling year-on-year, with the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) helping to gain access and enhance profitability.

He said our growers are also working hard on the ground to make sure the region is growing the right fruit to work along with those FTA’s, and ensure we maximise the benefit for Australian growers.

“To meet this demand we are seeing massive plantings of citrus again in navels and soft citrus, and when you look at the figures, 60 percent of our mandarin crop isn’t bearing fruit yet, it’s all young trees – there is huge growth ahead of us,” Mr Watson said.

Cr Eckel said he came back from China after seeing citrus in the meetings he attended, and in the hotel rooms he and his delegation stayed at.

“It reminded me of when I was in Upland (established by the Chaffey Brothers) in California many years ago, and they had a citrus festival in that city, and I said to myself, why aren’t we marketing and promoting ourselves from a tourism and product perspective, ‘stamping’ ourselves as the fruit bowl of Australia,” Cr Eckel said.

“It’s important that wherever we can, when we have visitors coming into the city, that we showcase our product to them, show them what we have to offer, so that they can become ambassadors, leaving Mildura having been exposed to the best fruit there is.”

Virgin Airline passenger Prakashini Bradley said she was delighted to receive the unexpected gift of a locally-grown navel orange from Mildura’s Mayor.

“I’m here for work, I love coming to Mildura, and to be given a fresh orange on arrival was a lovely surprise, and a wonderful idea,” she said.