Archive for Fruit

Native ‘wonder’ fruit

 

 

TRIAL cultivation of an indigenous bush “wonder” fruit has started in the Kimberley.

With international pharmaceutical companies in hot pursuit.

 

Terminalia ferdinandiana, commonly known as gubinge or Kakadu plum, is a cherry-sized, pale green fruit found from the Kimberley through to Arnhem Land in the NT.

 

But initial environmental concerns of wild harvesting sensitive bush areas were heightened when it was revealed an international pharmaceutical company had exported tissue culture material of the fruit to Brazil with the aim of establishing commercial plantations there.  

These issues were raised at a forum organised by the WA Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) and hosted by the Kimberley College TAFE Broome Campus late last year.

 

TAFE program coordinator and horticultural lecturer Kim Courtenay said the forum established conclusively the development of the industry and its security was at risk because of a lack of local supply.

He said cultivated plantations, based on organic principals that preserved natural bio diversity presented the way forward for the industry.

 

Kimberley TAFE is currently trialling a new concept known as enrichment planting – an environmentally sustainable approach to farming through a practical training program at its Broome Campus.

 

The trial is the first stage of an initiative in conjunction with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) to establish a training and research facility in horticulture and land management on the outskirts of Broome.

The training programs have successfully established the first cultivated plantations of gubinge in the region.

 

Mr Courtenay said a critical element has been how the trees are watered.

 

“The young trees have been watered using the latest technology in drip-irrigation,” he said.

“Gubinge are deep rooted trees and adapted to the dry tropics. Drip-irrigation helps simulate the perfect wet season by giving them an early start.

“We plant the trees at the beginning of the build up and with drippers it tends to go well during the first wet season – ending up with well-established trees.”

 

Mr Courtenay, who has grown the plant for 25 years, said it was an exciting time for gubinge – which is currently fetching up to $20 a kilogram.

 

However TAFE itself has been trialling gubinge for 10 years on West Kimberley aboriginal communities – teaching and involving the residents.

Mr Courtenay said a lot of the work had involved special training for minimum security prisoners as part of a corrective services, training and rehabilitation initiative.

He hopes to venture further with the project as there are more than 200 communities in the Kimberley region who would benefit from horticulture programs.

 

Kimberley TAFE horticultural trainer Merridoo Walbidi is a traditional Elder of the Yulparija people from the Great Sandy Desert.

He has been involved in the gubinge project for several years and won the Aboriginal Student of the Year award in 2004.

 

Premier Alan Carpenter said Mr Walbidi had demonstrated traditional and modern culture could effectively work side by side.

 

“We must walk together to create opportunities for young people and a better world for everyone,” Mr Walbidi said.

He said growing plants and creating gardens on communities was a good thing for people and improves their health.

 

Nutritional studies carried out by the Australian Army accompanying the Bush Tuckerman television series in the 1980s found the fruit to have extraordinarily high levels of vitamin C.

Further studies revealed the fruit also contained high levels of antioxidants – mooted as having anti-aging, immune system boosting and even cancer fighting qualities.

 

Research by Charles Darwin University (CDU) in 2006 revealed there were 17 major health and cosmetic companies worldwide interested in trialling gubinge fruit for product development.

The emerging industry was largely instigated by Sydney based company Coradji, which has established international markets and patented a technique which turns the fruit into a powder while maintaining high levels of vitamin C.

 

Since 2003 Coradji has purchased wild harvested fruit from licensed pickers in the Broome region and top end of NT – but supply has consistently fallen short by 12 tonnes a year.

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Going troppo over bananas

 

 

ONCE a booming industry, Ord Valley banana growers are becoming an endangered species.

With only a handful continuing the tradition and a lot of expressed negativity – hope for the industry’s future is varied.

 

But devastating storms, low market prices, high transport costs and fungal diseases have done little to deter grower Dave Dietrich from going bananas.

 

Dave moved to Kununurra 12 years ago and after spending two years working on a banana plantation decided it was time to go solo – with a new variety in tow.

 

Cavendish has long been the favoured variety in the Ord Valley, but has proved problematic in strong winds and is easily affected by a serious fungal disease known as Yellow Sigatoka leaf spot.

Originally this disease posed a problem with commercially-grown Cavendish bananas in Northern Queensland and was first reported in Kununurra in 1990.

The fungus was most noticeable at the end of the wet season on plantations that had not been sprayed.

 

But for the past two years Dave has been the only Ord grower trialling the Ducasse variety – with positive results.

 

The Ducasse banana is native to Thailand and is being grown all over the eastern seaboard.
It was brought to Kununurra because of its strong resistance to tropical fungal leaf diseases – in particular Yellow Sigatoka.

 

And Dave said it had also proved more suited to the harsh environment of the Ord Valley.

“It seems to be well-matched to the extremes in temperature and stands up to storms a lot better.”

“We recently lost two hectares to a storm but the Ducasse held on pretty well.”

“It is our plan to convert most of our 4.5 hectare property to Ducasse.”

 

The Ducasse banana is a small, thin-skinned, sweet tasting banana that does not brown easily when cut.

“I really enjoy growing bananas,” Dave said.

“It has its ups and downs – half the killer is the extreme temperatures we get up here – but it is something I like doing.”

 

He and his wife Mandy established Bullrout Produce – named after their original territory – to sell largely into the local Asian market.

And they have plans to expand into the boutique market.

 

“Mandy and I work very hard, it is just the two of us and bananas are quite labour intensive,” Dave said.

 

Dave said Kununurra was not the ideal climate for bananas and growers had to use different strategies to survive and succeed.

 

“Mandy and I grow the trees closer together to create a larger canopy to trap the humidity,” he said.

“We also water the trees from the bottom, using micro-irrigation, which helps create a micro-climate for the trees and we think this is the only way to do it.”

 

Additionally, the bananas are covered with a bag to keep the heat distribution even and dirt-free and they are harvested between 10 to 18 weeks – depending on the weather.

 

Bananas grow all year round in the Valley and Dave and Mandy are currently harvesting weekly, sending 120 boxes south every seven days.

“It really starts to pick up this time of year during the dry season and our bananas are growing well,” Dave said.

But with boxes fetching no more than $22, Dave hopes the market price will increase too.

 

And even though some growers insist on letting their crops drop to the ground if market prices are not good enough – Dave said it was worth sending them anyway.

“A lot of money is put into growing the crop – you are better off getting something rather than nothing.”

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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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Growers have their backs to the wall

DESPITE record breaking rain in Kununurra last month, several melon growers in the Ord Valley have succeeded in planting their first seeds – on time.

 But this year local growers have bigger problems on their hands than just trying to juggle seasons.

Soaring fertiliser prices are expected to give the industry a hammering.

 Ivanhoe producers Darryl and Rosemarie Smith said they rely heavily on Roundup during the wet season for weed control.

 And Mr Smith said its cost “has risen phenomenally”.

He said while everyone is talking about the high prices for commodities such as wheat, melon prices have remained fairly static.

 So with crippling input costs and little sign of increased returns, the region’s melon growers will have their backs to the wall in the coming season.

 Mr Smith said the melon industry is also concerned about its reputation at the retail end because of quality control.

“We follow strict regulations when transporting our melons and are confident to say they are kept within the 6C minimum requirement – which assures a good shelf life,” Mr Smith said.

 “But it is disappointing to see fruit put out on supermarket shelves at store temperature – which causes it to deteriorate quickly,” he said.

He said it is frustrating for all growers and should not reflect their efforts.

 “The market remains good if everyone is producing quality melons as well as keeping the standards up on the other end,” he said.

 But the consumer judges the product on what they purchase, not understanding how it was grown and the quality it was in when it left the farm gate.

 Mr Smith said melons are extremely labour intensive, and next month should see the influx of backpackers and an increase in employment by May, when pickers and packers are needed. 

 The Ord melon industry launches annually during the wet season, from December until March, and getting in the ground at that time can have a huge impact on yields.

But the Smiths said it is a gamble growers have to take.

 “You just cannot predict Mother Nature,” Mrs Smith said.

“As soon as it is dry enough to get into the paddock we plant,” she said.

 Melons are seasonably dependent and a typical season in Kununurra begins in March with the last seeds being planted at the beginning of August.

 However, farms such as Ivanhoe stop planting in July because of the sharp increase in temperature and humidity.

 “Melons grow well at 30C, but anything over 40C and they ripen too quickly,” Mrs Smith says.

 Unseasonal mid-year rain last year caused some problems in the valley.

“We were lucky to get through it, other growers suffered worse, but it slowed the growth of our melons,” Mr Smith says.

“And our yields took a blow from diseases caused by the rain,” he says.

 “For the temperature to drop below 25C, and everything being wet, had a huge impact on melons up here.” 

Mrs Smith also says Ord growers do not have the option of manipulating their crops like growers in the south of WA do during the heat as the temperature does not drop significantly during the night in hotter months.

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