The Australian pomegranate industry is on the verge of an exciting period of growth, largely due to a major research project, being led by a South Australian research organisation.
Australia has only been growing pomegranates commercially for approximately 10 years, and it is largely only owned and operated by two companies – PomLife in Victoria and Pomegranates Australia in SA. PomPersia Innovator Omid Rad admits that it has been a rough ride for some growers including the more sizeable farms. Some growers have until now struggled to sustain plantations long term, some simply gave up, and others who may have entered the business of growing pomegranates simply never got in.
"It appears to have been a very steep learning curve - we as a nation, didn't know how to grow pomegranates and are still learning," he said. "Four or five years ago, the biggest pomegranate business at the time Royal Pom in New South Wales failed spectacularly. It was 200 hectares of pomegranate plants, and reportedly in the course of a few months up to 60 per cent of their mature trees died. This is a problem that has been shared with many other farms in many regions in Australia - it has been loosely called the 'catastrophic dieback'. You literally wake up to dead trees; one day there is fruit on the tree, there is barely any leaves on the tree the next day and the tree is dead a few days later.
When the Condobolin farm failed, there were some 500 hectares of plantations reported throughout Australia. Approximately 410 hectares of that or over 80 per cent of all pomegranates produced in Australia were grown on three farms alone. So, you can imagine how significant a hit to the industry it was to see major losses resulting in closure of the NSW farm and fire-sale of the SA farm (later acquired by Bickford’s)."
Photo: Early stage dieback
PomPersia presented some of its findings at the IV International Pomegranate and Minor Mediterranean Fruits, in September 2017 in Spain. Subsequently, and with some clever manoeuvring, PomPersia succeeded in its bid to host the next Symposium in South Australia in April 2021, a direct result of which was that the major stakeholders in Australia got together to form the Australian Pomegranate Association (APA). APA held its first Annual General Meeting in April this year. Mr Rad is also president of the Association, and hopes that the pomegranate industry can increase Australia’s production to between 30-40,000 tonnes within a decade, with the majority to be exported.
At its peak, Australia produced around 4,000 tonnes, in 2013, and since then it has dropped as low as half, but is now on the increase again. To put that in perspective, Mr Rad says the world produces and consumes 4.5million tonnes of pomegranates annually - with Australia's production equating to just eight out of every 10,000 pomegranates produced globally each year. He adds Australia's growers could learn from the growth in Peru’s experience, which only started notable harvests in 2012-13.
Photo: Late stage dieback
"That year they produced 6,000 tonnes from which they exported 4,300 tonnes," Mr Rad said. "Last year, they reported a total of 27,000 tonnes in exports - that is 670 per cent (growth) in five years, and by 2020 they expect to be exporting 50,000 tonnes, which is 1100 per cent in a short 8-year period. If Australia's production increased by 10,000 per cent we would reach 1 per cent of world production. So that is the level of activity achieved by Peru and can and should be achieved by Australia."
The Australian Federal Government is also backing this growth, through the AgriFutures fund, which analysed 50 up and coming micro industries, in horticulture in Australia, and pomegranates rated in the top five, in having potential to raise revenue from $2-3million per annum to more than $10million annually within four years.
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