Australia's citrus industry set for another record year but nurseries run short of tree stock
Citrus growers across Australia have good reason to celebrate, with prices and global demand predicted to hit new records.
Chairman for Citrus Australia Ben Cant said the industry was booming, with growers getting twice or three times as much for their fruit than they were five years ago, and exports were steadily increasing.
"We've seen returns in the vicinity of $700–900 a tonne on navel oranges this season," Mr Cant said.
"In 2012/2013 we were looking at $200–300 a tonne, which is about our cost of production … so now we see fantastic returns for growers."
Sunlands citrus grower Mark Doecke said it had been an exceptional season for growers as weather conditions, fruit quality, and crop quantity had been great.
"Citrus has to be picked when it is dry and above 12 to 13 degrees, so this year with harvest we had no drizzle and no rain," he said.
"I feel for my brothers in the dryland farming but, as far as citrus picking goes, it's been excellent for us."
Sunlands citrus grower Mark Doecke says they've had great season with good fruit quality, weather conditions, and fruit quantity.
And as demand is outstripping supply, Australian exports are predicted to have increased by 10 per cent this year.
Mr Cant said last year's official figures for citrus exports were around $480 million and they were confident to be a bit over $500 million in exports this year.
"And we could see $550–600 million in export next year," Mr Cant said.
"We've seen positive improvements in all markets, Japan has been about the same but China and the USA are up and pretty much everything across the board.
"Certainly, the demand for navel oranges continues to rise across key export markets like China and Japan."
Chairman for Citrus Australia Ben Cant says citrus exports are predicted to have increased by 10 per cent this season.
Growers benefit with first harvest under new import rules to China. After years of negotiations the Chinese Government recognised the Riverland region as a pest-free area for all horticulture commodities late last year, and the benefits were being felt by citrus growers this harvest.
The fruit-fly free recognition for exports to China means growers do not have to cold-treat their produce, which results in faster and direct shipment and cost savings for growers.
The Riverland's fruit-fly-free recognition for exports to China gives growers a competitive advantage.
Chair of Citrus Australia SA Region Steve Burdette said it was their biggest competitive advantage where additional cost for cold treatment would not have to be paid anymore.
"The fruit is a lot fresher when you ship it and eating quality is a lot more superior," Mr Burdette said.
"It created a lot more demand for our fruit into China."
Mr Cant said reasons for the high demand from China was their rising middle class prepared to pay for quality and the recognition of Australia's citrus as a premium product.
Citrus Australia market access manager David Daniels said there was a 50–60 per cent increase of exports to China from South Australia compared to last season, but this number was based on a low tonnage figure.
"China is the number-one market across the country, but that trade is primarily captured by the Victorian exporters. For South Australia, Japan is still a very strong market," Mr Daniels said.
"Returns to growers are better than ever."
Ben Cant says demand for navel oranges is certainly increasing. (ABC Rural: Jessica Schremmer)
"I would have to say everywhere we go, growers are very happy, with some saying prices are better than they have ever experienced in their lifetime."
Mr Daniels said the global demand for citrus was high due to an undersupply from competitor nations, where growers struggled with pest and disease hitting their produce.
Citrus plantings boom but many nurseries are sold out of trees. As global demand for citrus is expected to be strong, thousands of new citrus tree plantings are going into the ground across the country. But many nurseries are sold out of stock and do not have trees available until early 2020.
Mr Cant said there was a two to three-year wait for nursery stocks.
"We are on a massive growth trajectory, people are putting in trees of the preferred varieties as fast as they can right now," he said.
Chislett Farms nursery manager Jonathan Chislett from the Mallee region in Victoria said demand for trees was very high.
"We're sold out for this year and next but have capacity for 2020," Mr Chislett said.
"I don't have the exact numbers but it might be a couple of hundred thousand trees."
Mr Chislett said it was the highest demand he had ever seen and, as demand increased, nurseries were increasing their capacity to accommodate for it.
Engelhardt Citrus nursery owner John Engelhardt, located in the Orara Valley in New South Wales said he sold out of stock in July this year and would not be able to supply growers until January 2020.
"There is a lot of demand for citrus trees as the growers are getting reasonable prices for the fruit and also the export markets seem to be lucrative," Mr Engelhardt said.
"We are increasing production but at a reasonable pace."
Mr Cant said they were concerned about the volumes of trees coming on board but would work hard on opening more export markets.
By Jessica Schremmer and Nadia Isa