By ALEXANDRA TRELOAR
SUNRAYSIA’S citrus harvest is up and running for another year, with growers expecting another season of sweet returns.
While classic varieties like navels and mandarins are still in high demand, a relatively new kid on the citrus block – the seedless lemon – is fast becoming a firm favourite overseas.
Nangiloc Colignan Farms Citrus and Wine manager, Shaun Hibberd, said the property has 30 acres of the variety.
“Years ago you couldn’t tell me that we would be growing the amount of lemons we do now,” Shaun said.
He said where lemons were once grown on the property as wind breaks around navel trees, they are now one of the farms’ better returns.
Shaun said Asia’s obsession with Australia’s “clean and green product” means almost all of the 600 acres of citrus grown on the farm will head overseas.
“China’s market has made a big difference and turned the industry right around,” Shaun said.
“You’ve got to grow the right size fruit and there’s more work in it, but the returns are there, because there’s no money in the Australian market.”
With more growers around the region continuing to jump into the booming citrus industry, Shaun says he isn’t worried about a flood in the market.
“We haven’t even touched the Chinese market, there’s plenty of growth there, you’ve got to have the product, but they’ll pay extra for us because of the reputation,” he said.
Citrus Australia chair, Tania Chapman, expects the main challenge facing growers this harvest to be labour hire.
“The backpacker tax is turning people away and the rumour that Mildura is not a good place to work will make it difficult,” Ms Chapman said.
“I’m urging growers to do the right thing when it comes to hiring labour, because we can’t afford anymore reputational damage.
“Make sure you put the right quality in the box, register your backpackers and make a peace agreement.
“The best thing for growers to do is to directly hire their workers.”
She said another factor this harvest will be irregular fruit sizes, caused by hotter weather in the growing season, which will make it harder to get premium export price.
“China is very particular when it comes to the size of their fruit, so growers will have to be very mindful of what they are putting in the box is right,” Ms Chapman said.