A citrus grower in South Australia's Riverland region says conditions this season have been "wonderful", leading to cleaner fruit that is in abundance.
Taylorville Produce is based in Taylorville, and Farm Manager Navjot Singh says while there have been challenges the company has had to manage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fruit quality itself has been good.
"We've had high uniform brix across all lots and smoother than average skin has caused high demand for Riverland Citrus," Mr Singh said. "Key challenges we are facing this season is the lack of pickers available to harvest produce, this has had a significant knock-on effect with fruit becoming over-ripened on trees and deteriorating more rapidly post-harvest."
The company grows and pack all Navel orange varieties, Imperial mandarins and lemons, marketed under Devlins Pound Citrus, and Mr Singh says there are plans for more speciality varieties, such as blood oranges and afourer mandarins, which are coming online.
"Our bread and butter is Navels as we find this to be the most stable citrus to grow and market," he said. "We begin packing our Navelina’s in April for the domestic market and begin exporting them towards the end of May as the natural colour begins to set in, we see an increase in demand for export beginning to start in June and is sustained through to early December, we see the market relax a little after export as we focus the remaining Valencia crop for the domestic market."
Taylorville Produce supplies all produce markets along the east coast with a particular focus on Adelaide and Sydney, as well as partnerships with supermarket chains for tailored speciality products. This year, with the help of the marketing arm, Sai World, it has really been pushing the brand into the export markets such as Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and India - and aims to launch into Canada, USA, Taiwan and china next year.
Mr Singh says he has seen much cleaner fruit coming through the packhouse due to calmer winds early in the growing season but has also seen an increase in the incidence of albedo across all lots.
"This has caused a massive issue that we have such clean fruit this year but cannot utilise it due to albedo," he said. "We have seen an increase in yields in our orchard this year compared to previous seasons. It seems that there’s is an abundance of fruit available from other growers this year however this may be due to the slow market performance."
He added that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on all aspects of how the business operates, from not being able to get enough picking staff to pick fruit to not getting equipment and materials for the packhouse.
"Harvest level has been the most challenging in terms of COVID as we have seen a massive reduction in pickers compared to the previous season, this has caused the per bin rate we pay to increase by 20-25 per cent," Mr Singh said.
"The rate is not such an issue but getting pickers to turn up when they say they will is a challenge and causes many delays further down the line. Logistically it has not been too bad within Australia with all our markets along the East coast being serviceable at all times. In terms of export, it has become difficult to find suitable vessels for destinations and once that is accomplished it is difficult to get a container for that vessel, this situation is further exacerbated with the increase in shipping rates due to COVID-19. Furthermore, the instantaneous lockdowns locally and abroad can make a market shrink very quickly. A recent case of this is, Vietnam, which is still in lockdown and has caused a massive issue for large premium fruit."
The company has been growing Citrus in the Riverland region for the last eleven years and currently have 200 acres (81ha) under plantings with more being planted in coming seasons, as well as sourcing citrus from five key growers who collectively farm over 600ac.
“Roughly 16 months ago we embarked on the journey to pack and market our own fruit along with that of other growers and have had tremendous support from our local agents, Russo Produce (SA) and All Crops (NSW) and more recently our export partner, Sai World," Mr Singh said.
"On-farm we utilise Maf Roda sorting equipment along with a Giro bagger and Sunkist auto packer to ensure our customers receive exactly the product we promised. Currently, we have 3 generations of our family working collectively to grow and pack the produce, and all 3 generations have different experiences from different time periods which are all very relevant with coming up with new solutions to tackle an everchanging growing environment, furthermore, we work very closely with industry experts to discuss ideas and issues to come up with solutions which not only improve our orchard but those of other growers as well."
Taylorville Produce has also been working hard to introduce environmentally-friendly methods, including the reduction of the usage of foliar chemical sprays and moving away from broad-spectrum control methods for pests to reduce chemical usage.
"In turn, this has reduced our tractor hours aiding in our goal to become more carbon-neutral," he said. "Furthermore, we are working on establishing a beneficial plant layer to aid weed control and reduce weedicide usage in the orchard, though this is proving a challenge, with some countries imposing stringent orchard requirements for imports."