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Australian passionfruit enter planting season, slightly down on numbers

A Sunshine Coast passionfruit grower expects quality to remain high heading into Christmas, even if volumes are down on last year.

The co-owner of Vines with a View, at the base of Mount Beerwah in the Glass House Mountains has found passionfruit supply reduces considerably at this time of year as the new planting season is just beginning. Jane Richter says there are very few growers with fruit currently available, which is evident by the market price which can rise by 400 per cent at this time of year, compared to the average price in the peak season. However fruit may be available earlier, which should see prices start to come down in November.

"Consumers can expect fabulous flavour in their fruit, but I would anticipate volumes will be down on the same pre-Christmas season last year," Mrs Richter said. "The flower set and fruit development has been good, but not as good as it would be with plentiful rain in between the warm sunny days. June to August has been hot and dry across the major growing regions. Those growers with access to plentiful water supplies for irrigation have been able to ride out the long dry – others have not been as lucky."

Vines with a View started operation in 2015, and has 24 acres adjoining the National Park. The farm infrastructure is still being developed, but has trellising for about 4500 vines with plans to add more in the next 3-5 years. It is fully equipped with cold storage and packing facilities ready to handle the expansion. Mrs Richter says the climate is good, with frost a very rare occurrence and usually plentiful rainfall, but adds that it has been a challenging year for Australia’s passionfruit growers.  

"A plague of Rutherglen bugs came through southeast Queensland in late December and attacked all of the new flowering and fruit," she said. "From mid to late January ripe fruit was hard to find. Therein followed a period of extreme heat, which interfered with pollination for the next fruit set. So with a 2-3 month lag, fruit supply only started to become plentiful in May this year. “ 

She reports that some growers in northern NSW then had very heavy rain periods and even hail storms which damaged farms extensively, while the far northern growing regions have experienced below average rainfall making it a difficult season. Vines with a View escaped damage from a nearby bushfire at the Glass House Mountains, but are on high alert due to the significantly drier conditions posing a serious risk.

Mrs Richter and her husband John are enjoying the challenge of farming, having spent 25 years working in different industries; John in the Oil and Gas, and Jane as a marketing professional in large food and consumer goods businesses.

Data from Hort Innovation has shown that last year almost 5,200 tonnes of passionfruit was produced in Australia which was a 22 per cent increase on the previous year. The production value was up 10 per cent to AU$17.2million and consumption was up by 21 per cent.

But over a longer term, the Vines with a View co-owner says the overall volume of fruit produced has not increased really significantly over the last fifteen years despite a flurry of new growers entering the passionfruit industry. This could be put down to supply fluctuating quite considerably from one year to the next, and several factors affecting industry growth.

"Demand is certainly strong for fresh passionfruit, but the limits on supply particularly at this time of year, have put the brakes on more significant market development," Mrs Richter said. "New varieties are in development and other growing techniques are being explored to fill this supply window, and when successful this will be a huge boost to the development of the industry. The high labour cost currently involved with harvesting passionfruit is another factor limiting the growth of the industry, and again, new technological solutions will emerge that can assist with profitability and therefore viability of passionfruit farming within Australia."

Mrs Richter say most fruit is sold into the wholesale market system in Australia, with only a small proportion being marketed direct by growers to local fruit shops and via Farmers Markets. There is little or no export of fresh passionfruit from Australia currently.  

"Only the open markets like Singapore, Hong Kong or the UAE are readily accessible as there are yet to be any validated protocols set up for fresh exports," she said. "Work is beginning in this area under a large Hort Innovation project and the Passionfruit peak body – Passionfruit Australia Inc – has joined forces with a leading university to explore planning for export markets in the next 12 months. There are very few growers with the scale to deal directly with the major retailers like Coles and Woolworths."

For more information:
Jane Richter
Vines with a View
Phone: +61 7 5438 7662

Publication date: 9/20/2017
Author: Matthew Russell
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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