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Growing Innovation: Issue 12, July 27, 2016

Juicy opportunities for the citrus industry

Dean Morris, Moricom Orchards, NSW

With citrus growing a strong family tradition for Dean Morris, there was never any question about what he would do with his life.

“I’m a fourth-generation citrus farmer,” he said. “I grew up on the farm here in Leeton, in the Riverina of New South Wales, and agriculture has been it for me. I went to an agricultural boarding school and later an agricultural college, and have always enjoyed the industry. It’s in the blood, I guess.”

Dean said his family started out focusing on the juice industry and were initially heavily involved in processing. But in the late ’80s Dean’s family saw an opportunity to get involved in the export market for seedless, easy peel mandarins and navel oranges – and he’s never looked back. Today Moricom Orchards has 50 hectares of seedless mandarins, and Dean is planning to develop another 50 hectares over the next three years. He averages 60 tonnes of high-quality Afourer mandarins each season, in addition to smaller quantities of younger varieties. Dean and his father, John, grow predominantly navel oranges on a separate 22-hectare property where the family has been farming since 1927.

“I love producing food and feeding the world,” he said. “I get a real buzz out of doing the job well and producing high-quality fruit that international markets are really interested in. And in the citrus industry, when you do something well you’re rewarded pretty well.”

But, Dean said, opening and maintaining those export markets for Australian citrus was one of the biggest challenges for the industry going forward. “Keeping up with varieties, producing the best-looking and best-tasting citrus, keeping up with technology and investing in good R&D are a part of this too. They’re an important way for citrus growers to strengthen our businesses and industry,” he said.

A member of Hort Innovation’s new citrus Strategic Investment Advisory Panel, Dean has always been interested in discovering new things that can benefit citrus growers.

“I enjoy seeing what’s new both here and around the world, and trying to implement any new technique I can for my own business,” he said. Because of this Dean was one of the early adopters of using high-tech nutritional solutions to maximise production and internal fruit quality, and of growing citrus on mounds. “Growing on mounds is now probably the citrus-industry standard, but when we started out the idea of trying to create a soil microclimate where you can have a little bit more control over the tree was new. We also have 10 hectares of mandarins growing on trellises, which is showing great results.”

As for the latest R&D in the industry? “A solution to fruit fly is probably the biggest research area for growers across many industries,” Dean said. “There’s work being done but we need to do more. If we all contribute, a solution for eradicating it completely can hopefully be found.”

Dean is also hopeful about how new technologies can contribute to the industry. “There’s stuff coming up every day that can be really useful for citrus growers. There are drones for monitoring weak spots in paddocks, a lot of hand-held app stuff that could be rolled out… in fact there’s a lot that’s already out there. But I think a challenge is growers having the time to implement it, and also having the skills to implement it. You also need that drive to get in there and have a go.”

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