Nuts about Fruit: Asian demand to drive Australian horticulture growth

Image: Premium quality fruit has placed Australian on the front foot of growing demand by Asian consumers. Image from pxhere, published under CCO 1.0 agreement.

A forecasted medium-term boom for the horticulture sector will be driven by growth in the nut and fruit sectors, according to the latest ABARES outlook report.

The gross value of Australian horticultural production is projected to rise to $13.6 billion in 2022-23, an increase of more than $3 billion from current values.

In the last few decades, Chinese demand for fruit has skyrocketed in line with a growing, more affluent middle class, with the perception of Australia as a supplier of ‘clean and green’ food cementing the trade relationship.

A new trade agreement has further improved access to the Chinese market for local growers, adding peaches, apricots and plums to the list of tradable produce. The 2017 agreement also relaxed fumigation and cold-treatment protocols for table grapes and recognised pest-free regions for citrus and cherries.

Australia’s booming nut industry is also set to be a key contributor to overall industry growth. The real gross value of Australian tree nut production is projected to increase from $1 billion currently, to $1.5 billion in 2022-23.

Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts account for the biggest slice of sector growth. Since 2010, Australian almond and macadamia growers have capitalised on increasing global demand for nuts, with the low Australian dollar providing excellent price competitiveness.

As countries including China, South Africa, Turkey and the United States ramp up production of tree nuts, it is expected that Australian prices will fall over the medium term.

Opportunity knocks

Demand increases driven by volume and produce range led north Queensland grower Marc Magro to expand production on his 100 hectare irrigated fruit farm ‘Springmount’, west of Mareeba.

He predominantly grows longans – and their better-known cousins lychees – and has recently invested in four new varieties of lychees bred in China.

His produce appeals to the domestic Asia-Australian population and Chinese export market.

‘There’s only about a dozen longan growers in Australia so it’s a relatively new industry but I think the potential market is huge,’ said Mr Magro.

‘I love growing fruit for people to enjoy, and with longans selling locally in shops for $12 to $15 a kilogram, it can be quite a profitable crop too.’

Mr Magro’s sentiment is shared by Harry Debney, CEO of Costa – Australia’s largest fruit producer.

In 2017 the Costa group recorded a 98,000 tonnes citrus crop, of which 75% was sold overseas. In 2015, less than half of Costa’s produce was sold offshore.

‘Australian horticulture is still constrained by high labour costs, but we can compete overseas because of the quality of our fruit, reliability of supply and increasing automation in farm industries such as citrus,’ he said.

Sources: ABARES, The Australian

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