Grappling with grapefruit


PICKING of red grapefruit in the Ord Valley has begun for the season and a massive 50 per cent reduction in yields is not the only problem Rewards have on their hands this year.
 The company’s enormous plantation has copped a fair bit of criticism from across the border.
And NT growers have raised concerns about the effect the ongoing growth of Rewards will have on the domestic market.
With 200 hectares and 80,000 trees – there is no doubting Rewards have the upper-hand on grapefruit in the Ord Valley, but project manager Steward Dobson said the company would not get involved in a slanging match and had no intentions of flooding the local market.

“Our prime expenditure and emphasis has been on developing the export market.
“We export to Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
“But have our sights set on Japan and have spent a lot of money to get our fruit ready for them.”

Rewards have spent several years’ trialling different varieties as well as the use of a cold sterilisation treatment to prove the region’s fruit fly free status and get into the lucrative Japanese market.

“Presently we are waiting for them to sign off on our cold disinfestations trials,” Mr Dobson said.

But at the moment the company had to deal with a gigantic 50 per cent reduction in yields, which although disappointing, Mr Dobson was confident the quality of the fruit would make up for the lack of numbers.

Record breaking rain in June lat year interrupted flowering and as a result only half of Reward’s 80,000 tree plantation will produce fruit this season.

 Mr Dobson said the outcome was disappointing but out of their hands.
“We were in the middle of droughting the trees and if the rain had fallen 10 days earlier or 10 days later it would not have affected us.
“Once the rain ceased we continued to drought the crop instead of giving it any water and fertiliser in an effort to get another flowering – which we did, but it was too hot for the flowers to set.”

But there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel and last years disaster will prove beneficial to next season’s crop.

“The energy that should have gone into fruiting went into tree growth instead.
“So next year we should have a bigger canopy than would have been the case and will get a heavier yield,” Mr Dobson said.

The usual six to eight week picking period has been extended this year because of irregular flowering and the company want to make sure they get as much of the good fruit as possible.

Most of the labour is imported from Victoria where harvest people are abundant because of the drought.

Mr Dobson said the Federal Minister for Agriculture Tony Burke would be taking a business delegation of Australian growers to North Asia at the beginning of April.
“This will include Rewards director who would be pushing the case for access to the Japanese market,” he said.



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