Growing Innovation: Issue 16, October 5, 2016

“Vine variety is the way of the future”

Tim Johnson, Clothiers Creek, NSW

Tim Johnson was 15 years old when he started helping his father grow passionfruit on the family farm in northern New South Wales. Now, 28 years on, his love of the vines is stronger than ever.

“I’ve always enjoyed farming in general. I like to see the growth, and what you can do if you really put your mind to it,” he said. “And passionfruit just continues to be a great industry to be involved in, especially because the people in it are a good lot to get on with.”

Tim said the biggest lure of the industry for him is the challenges it throws out. “Passionfruit are difficult to grow in a lot of ways. You can have lots of problems and every year changes – they’ll grow differently from one year to the next, so you don’t really know what’s in store. But if you put the effort into growing them, you can do reasonably well.”

And Tim prides himself on putting that effort in. “I know that if you slack off in any part of growing passionfruit you can really lose out, so I’m very careful with my management and like to stay on top of things that are happening in the industry.”

Currently Tim grows about 10 hectares of passionfruit, producing up to 25,000 cartons a year, or about 160 tonnes. He mainly focuses on the Sweetheart variety but is experimenting with others. “There’s a lot of trial and error with putting in newer varieties, particularly because some may only last for a couple of years,” he said.

The development of varieties in the future is something that particularly excites Tim, who is the former chair of the Australian Passionfruit Sub-Breeding Committee.

“I think the key to the Australian passionfruit industry – as it always has been – is to come up with new varieties that are more palatable and more reliable, and that are better suited to specific consumer demands. New varieties have expanded our market share extremely over the years, so I can only imagine what we can achieve with new breeding. And the opportunity for the market to grow is there, because currently Australian consumers only eat a small amount of passionfruit,” Tim said.

“From what I understand, HIA [Hort Innovation] has arranged a breeding program with Sothern Cross University that’s underway, and if some of that work turns into reality it could really help transform the passionfruit industry. I’m thinking particularly about breeding towards certain palette types for here and for overseas– so possibly in the future if there’s an export market with a preference for certain flavours, and we can target a certain amount of breeding towards that, we could open up whole new markets for the industry.”

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