Australian stone fruit on track for strong volume despite recent weather

Recent weather events in the major stone fruit growing regions, have not affected the optimism of the industry nationally, with volumes still on track to be higher than in the previous year.

Andrew Finlay is a grower at Pikes Creek Orchard near Stanthorpe in Queensland and also Chairman of Summerfruit Australia and he says the outlook for this year is looking really good, especially in his part of the country.

"Growing conditions have been good – significantly better than last year, it’s almost like a different country," he said. "There will be plenty of options and varieties for consumers to enjoy, with strong brix levels – in Queensland, we’re seeing 16.5 – 19.5 brix, so the sweetness should be up there. There are plenty of varieties still to come, so we’re looking forward to a strong season."

He says the major growing regions in southern Australia, have also experienced positive conditions throughout winter, leading into the season, despite some scattered hail and frost. While some parts of northern Victoria and southern New South Wales received more than 200 millimetres of rain last weekend, which is set to have a impact on yield for those growers.

Mr Finlay's orchard in South East Queensland grows early season fruit, harvesting from the middle of October, with a focus on nectarines and peaches. He has nectarine varieties such as Honey May and May Bright, and peach varieties such as Snow Angel and May Princess. That's in addition to plum varieties like Black Diamond, Black Ruby and Ebony Treat, which are harvested at the start of November, and are focused on the domestic market, with only a small amount of export plums.

"The varieties we choose work well for our region," Mr Finlay said. "Thanks to strong demand, our operations are expanding year on year. Asia as a region is an important focus for Australian Horticulture. There is significant opportunity to build markets given Australian products are known for being premium, high value and nutritious."

He says demand for Australian stone fruit is getting stronger, thanks to exciting new varieties that are coming into the market each season.

"As more varieties arrive, they’ll help to increase demand" Mr Finlay said. "We know we need to make sure the fruit we deliver to market is consistent, which is also a key driver for demand."

Mr Finlay believes this is a really exciting time for the industry, particularly with the opening of the market into China for plums, peaches and apricots, after nectarines gained access last season. He adds it will mean greater management of the supply and can better support the supply/demand balance here in Australia.

"For myself, I’ve got some varieties with high brix levels that I think will go very well in the Chinese market," he said. "They’re sweet and a good size which is a requirement in China, they are also perfect for snacking. Through the Hort Innovation Taste Australia initiative, we are working closely with export markets on consumer education to assist with their experience at a store level to help cement stone fruit as a great option for summer."

More than 100,000 tonnes of stone fruit is produced each year by more than 1,200 farmers Australia wide across the 26 growing regions. However, Mr Finlay says it is not just the quantity, but the improvement in quality this year that has made this year’s crop sweeter, which should improve even further as the season progresses.

“We know Aussies love stone fruit, it’s a nostalgic reminder of warm summer days with family and friends," he said. "Consumers can enjoy the fruit from now, through the festive season and well into the new year. I love nothing more than tucking into a peach or nectarine fresh off the tree as a snack, or slicing them and adding to a summer salad – it gives a lovely texture and tastes delicious. Make sure the fruit smells sweet, gives a little under pressure when squeezed, with no soft spots or blemishes. Once you get them home, if they’re not quite ripe, let them sit at room temperature. Only put them in the fridge once they’re ripe, as the cold stops the ripening process.”

For more information and serving ideas visit the Facebook Page: facebook.com/AustraliaSummerStonefruit/

Andrew Finlay
Pikes Creek Orchard
+61 7 4685 6171
pikescreek@bigpond.com

Publication date: 12/8/2017
Author: Matthew Russell
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com