Avocado production is set to increase in Western Australia with horticultural asset originator, developer and manager Alterra Limited’s latest property acquisition of a 300-hectare property in the premium horticultural region of Pemberton in Western Australia’s southwest.
Renowned around Australia for its cool climate, mineral rich soils and access to high-quality water, Pemberton produces top tier avocados. Due to this unique climate, the Pemberton region can achieve high average yields of between 20 tonnes and 30 tonnes.
Like a well-aged wine, fruit grown in this region takes a long time to mature. Avocados in some regions can take as little as six to nine months to reach maturity while fruit grown in Pemberton can take 16 months. This exceptionally long growing cycle means fruit from Pemberton offers some of the best eating avocados that consumers will taste.
With a rising consumer appetite for healthy foods, global demand for avocados has skyrocketed over the past 10 years. Currently Australia exports only around 3 per cent of its total avocado crop with significant potential to grow exports into the future, particularly from this unique production area of Pemberton.
Given the property’s location, climate and access to high-quality water, Alterra’s Pemberton project is well positioned to push Western Australia into the international spotlight. Alterra’s Chief Operating and Technical Officer Brett Heather has been fortunate enough to work with farmers in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, Africa, and the East Coast of Australia.
“Pemberton offers an amazing climate with fantastic soil for growing avocados, it’s an environment that very few places across a global landscape are blessed with. The Karri loams and giant Karri trees that are unique to the region are testament to this amazing environment that has proven ideal for growing avocados,” said Mr Heather.
Pemberton Home to “Green Gold”
Research from national industry body Avocados Australia shows that avocado plantings in Australia reached an all-time high in 2019 with 11,422 hectares planted, of this, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have planted 2,538 hectares. With Alterra’s planned planting of 300 hectares, this asset represents over 10 per cent of the state’s production once fully developed.
Alterra has looked to avoid mistakes made by other large agri-businesses that have not been good at taking advantage of local knowledge. Alterra has signed agreements with two local avocado producers in the South West of Western Australia. These partners have offered access to their production data and horticultural expertise which has been built up through multiple generations of family farming.
This expertise is already paying dividends with Alterra in optimising the development plans for this top-tier project. A “Best Practise” guide has been developed as a “blueprint” for Alterra to maximise yields, optimise quality, control costs and ultimately ensure the project is a low-cost producer. This aligns with Alterra’s strategy to export fruit into global markets as Australian production of avocados continues to grow.
“Alterra understands that its people and partners are key to the success of its projects and has built an experienced management team to execute projects on the ground. Alterra is taking a very disciplined and methodical approach to farming,” said Mr Heather.
Avocado crop at Alterra execution partner French’s Group property in Pemberton, Western Australia
Alterra sees its investment in various on farm digital technologies as critical in helping make the most informed decisions at a production level to ensure quality and yield is optimised and costs controlled. Alterra’s approach to utilising local skills and knowledge with its technical partners and driving informed operational decisions through embracing AgTech is a key focus of the company’s strategy.
Alterra Managing Director Oliver Barnes said the Carpenters Project presented a significant opportunity to launch Alterra’s new business model with an outstanding asset supported by quality management.
Asia Export Strategy
While there is significant demand within the state, according to the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development up to 80 per cent of the fruit produced is sold interstate. However, export levels are relatively low at 2.3 per cent nationally in 2017/18.
French’s Group Founder William French said the company had seen increased international demand for premium Pemberton avocados with an excellent shelf life which supports a significant export opportunity for the industry and Alterra.
“The region is recognised within Australia for high quality product, and we believe the Carpenters Project will help drive global demand for avocados from the region,” said Mr French.
As of 2018, China’s avocado imports had boomed to more than 32,000 tonnes from all sources, with Mexico enjoying a market share of around 40 per cent.
According to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, in 2011 China imported just 31.8 tonnes of avocados. By 2017, China imported more than 32,000 tonnes of avocado, 22 per cent more than in the previous year, with the marketing dominated by South America producers with Chile and Mexico enjoying a 50 per cent and 40 per cent market share respectively.
Given Western Australia’s proximity to Southeast Asia, there is a significant opportunity on our doorstep to enter the market with a premium product and deliver a steady supply to international markets, for the duration of the state’s harvest period (six months of the year).
The bridge between industry and investment
The Carpenters Project marks the first of several planned projects for Alterra, with a lease of up to 50 years for the Pemberton property.
As a defensive, stable non-correlated asset class, agriculture is known to withstand economic downturns that typically impact other assets. There has been continued strong demand at an institutional level with billions of dollars from sophisticated investors flowing into the Australian agricultural sector over the past 12 months.
“The Australian market for developed assets of this quality is currently dominated by international funds but we believe that they will see a strong increase in competition from Australian funds, including industry super funds,” said Mr Barnes.
“Alterra operates in an asset class known to hedge inflation with limited correlation to economic cycles that typically impact other asset classes.” A special purpose vehicle (SVP) has been established to house the Carpenters Project with plans for development capital to be sourced from specialist industry investors and family offices to fund the development pipeline, and in which Alterra intends to maintain a direct equity interest.