Tropical fruit growers and stakeholders will this week take part in the Tropical Exotic Fruit Symposium in Darwin to develop a Research, Development and Extension plan for the industry.
Held off the back of the four-day Northern Australian Food Futures Conference, NT Farmers CEO Greg Owens says the event will cover durian, jackfruit, rambutan, dragon fruit and longan.
"The key to all our development in the north is that it has to be economic," he said. "We can grow just about anything, but what will give a return to our growers. The theme of this conference is how can we do this while maintaining or improving the environment, and working with our regulators. We have a market advantage up here with the weather and we have some top-quality produce and we want to make it better. Then it is about delivering that; so, it is that market focus that is critical to that development in the north. Diversification is also something that we strongly look at and we send fruit from Perth to Brisbane and continue to send to southern markets and look overseas. But at the moment, the domestic market takes everything that we can produce."
Mr Owens says there already is "some excitement" surrounding jackfruit in the NT, with plenty of work on improving fruit quality; there is more acceptance across the markets, particularly the use of the fruit as a meat replacement.
"There are increased plantings across the Greater Darwin area, plus the work that the Territory's Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade is doing on selecting some of the better types from growers around the place," Mr Owens said. "Either the seedlings from their types or working on propagating clonals. We are getting to the point where we might be able to base the industry on some really great quality types rather than a variable range of seedlings that gives you all sorts of outcomes in terms of quality and quantity."
With rambutans, Mr Owens explained that consumer demand is driving growth for the fruit, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne markets, pointing out that the industry is benefiting from some research around getting good flowering, pollination, and fruit set across the Northern Territory.
"If we can get the flowering and pollinations step right, that has been our limiting factor," he said. "But some work done around better-quality male trees and using native stingless bee pollinators is pointing the way to better orchard management and better productivity across the rambutan sector. But basically, we cannot grow enough to supply those markets."
While the production of dragon fruit is steady in the Northern Territory, there is some expansion across Queensland. Durians are also a stable crop at the moment, and Mr Owens says demand levels are meeting supply.
"It will be up to the growers to find out where they want to put their effort; whether it is into more marketing or product development, or anywhere else," he said. "We don't grow too many longans here in the Territory. We are very interested in hearing from a couple of reps that are coming over from Queensland and the department to talk to the symposium to find out more about them."
Photo: NT Minister for Agribusiness and Aquaculture, Nicole Manison opening the conference.
The Northern Australia Food Futures Conference will run from Monday evening until Thursday morning, with the Tropical Fruit Symposium taking place Thursday afternoon. More than 400 delegates, and 40 exhibitors, will attend from government representatives, departments, growers and other industry support people.