Citrus Varieties Captivating the World's Consumers
A lack of control over costs and government policies inspired citrus farmer, Tania Chapman, to pursue various industry roles over the course of her career and, more recently, a Nuffield Scholarship, to help boost the competitiveness of Australia’s citrus industry. Together with her family, Tania owns and operates a 140-hectare citrus property south of Mildura, Victoria, producing Navel oranges predominantly for export and Valencia oranges for the export, domestic and juice markets.
Tania was supported by Rabobank to investigate Australia’s key export competitors and to determine what research and development they were adopting in the citrus industry to remain competitive. Having a financial and accounting background, not a farming one, Tania and her husband first bought the property in 2004 and soon realised the harsh reality of farming and the limited control over costs and returns. Tania said her scholarship provided an ideal opportunity to address some of these challenges by learning from industry’s export competitors and colleagues, so as to identify best practice in citrus management and to implement these measures back home.
“My study tour took me to Japan, Chile, USA, Spain, Hong Kong and China learning from some of the oldest citrus growing regions in the world and providing a first-hand insight into some of the opportunities, but also the challenges, they face,” Tania said.
“It equipped me with new knowledge and research ideas for targeted export markets, and how Australia’s export competitors are evolving to meet consumer trends. In Australia, we know how to grow quality fruit and transport it in prime condition, but ensuring we take into account market nuances and needs of our export markets so that we can receive top returns, is absolutely critical.”
In her report, Tania explains that citrus is Australia’s largest fresh fruit export with a total crop of around 600,000 tonnes annually, of which 180,000 is exported to key markets. While oranges account for 80 per cent of citrus exports in comparison to mandarins at 19 per cent and lemon, limes and grapefruit at 1 per cent, Tania said it’s vital for growers to remain at the forefront of changing consumer tastes and needs.
“Change is the only constant. For instance, it’s not just all about oranges any more. Markets, both domestic and export, are consumer driven and, as such, dictate the type of varieties grown in the most suitable production regions. China holds huge opportunities for Australia’s citrus industry, but this shouldn’t be considered as just supplying to one country given some of their second tier cities have greater populations than the whole of Australia. Further to this, markets like Korea and Thailand still have a strong preference for Australian oranges, even as global demand increases for easy peeler mandarins, so we need to look at a range of varieties to cultivate. I believe that now more than ever, Australian growers have access to a bourgeoning Asian middle class, which has been made easier by recent free trade negotiations that have produced both a reduction in tariffs and non-technical barriers to trade".
But in order to keep this favourable trade status, Tania said that Australia must differentiate from its competitors and leverage its strengths by promoting a reputation built on the principles of premium quality, green, clean and safe.
“There is mounting competition from key southern hemisphere markets such as Chile, Peru and South Africa, who have much lower costs of production than we have here in Australia. For example, labour costs between Chile and Australia are significant, with Chile paying AUD$2.50 an hour compared to Australia being about $25 an hour. So, with that in mind, staying competitive means producing and, importantly, promoting a final product that that is safe, clean, green and of the highest quality that families from around the world can enjoy every day.”
Maintaining this favourable trading reputation will depend on several factors such as the industry adopting ultra-low chemical residues and being proactive in biosecurity.
“My study enabled me to go beyond the farm gate and speak with producers about the worst citrus disease in the world. Biosecurity threats are increasing with globalisation rapidly increasing the movement of people and products, which means Australia’s citrus industry must take a lead role in surveillance and pest and disease trapping. In the event of an incursion, we must manage the situation and work alongside government and biosecurity agencies and ensure the right outcome for growers. It also hit home about the need to protect our industry against such risks and to be diligent when it comes to adopting ultra-low chemical residues, understanding the requirements of specific market maximum residue limits, so as to protect markets at any cost.
Overall Tania said the experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity and she now looks forward to continually sharing her insights and new knowledge with her peers, particularly on what new citrus varieties can be grown in Australia.
“Consumer preferences dictate the types of varieties our industry must grow, with trends fluctuating towards sweeter citrus, easy peelers and smoother rinds for example. But staying abreast of these changes and being open to new production lines will ensure that growers remain ahead of the curve and achieve a more sustainable future both financially and on the production front. I encourage my industry colleagues to take a look at the report and to consider these as part of their farming future,” she said.