Export markets continue to be a significant focus of levy-funded activity in the Australian citrus industry. A number of R&D projects have been completed or are currently underway to address biosecurity concerns and to deliver timely and accurate industry data that will improve market planning and access. Research also continues into improving quality standards to boost domestic consumption and consumer loyalty. Read more in the R&D Snapshot below.

INDUSTRY UPDATE

The inaugural citrus Strategic Investment Advisory Panel meeting was held on May 5, 2016, in Mildura. The panel discussed the industry’s short-term investment priorities, with a number of areas identified for near-term investment. These included the agrichemical residue monitoring program for Australian citrus exports; the industry’s citrus breeding program; and the national postharvest science program that has been on hiatus. The panel will meet again in late 2016 to further the strategic planning process.

To find out more about the Citrus program, take a look at the citrus page on Hort Innovation’s website or send the industry’s Relationship Manager at Hort Innovation, Brad Wells an email. For marketing please contact the citrus Marketing Associate Gustavo Soares on email.

R&D SNAPSHOT

NEW, ONGOING AND COMPLETED PROJECTS FOR THE INDUSTRY

Protecting Australia’s citrus industry from biosecurity threats (CT12022)

The Australian citrus industry currently enjoys freedom from many pests and diseases that impact production overseas, but it is increasingly important for the industry takes steps to ensure it is prepared for, and able to respond effectively to, exotic pest incursions.

Now complete, this project was designed with the objective of strengthening industry planning and preparedness in relation to biosecurity and other risks, and to facilitate awareness of exotic pests and diseases. It involved an audit of the current level of biosecurity in the citrus industry, revision of the biosecurity plan for the industry and review of the industry’s orchard biosecurity manual.

With outbreaks of Huanglongbing in the US, the project refined the citrus industry’s contingency plan for this disease. It also delivered an exotic pest incursion simulation exercise and other activities to prepare, including Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) training. It developed an Owner Reimbursement Costs framework and a Citrus Industry Surveillance Strategy. A Citrus Biosecurity Manager was also employed to coordinate biosecurity activity and lead a study tour to see the impact of Huanglongbing and Asiatic citrus psyllid on the United States citrus industry.

A follow-on project will be discussed at the next meeting of the citrus SIAP.

Australian citrus quality standards program – stage 2 (CT12004)

The domestic market is the citrus industry’s largest market. It’s competitive, and supplying citrus as early as possible has become a strategy to improve grower returns at the beginning of the season. But citrus does not continue to ripen after picking, and fruit harvested prior to maturity is typically either bland or sour, neither of which encourage repeat purchase in consumers. Adding to this, quality standards for taste and appearance previously held by each state have been deregulated (with the exception of Western Australia).

The citrus industry has been at risk of creating a lack of consumer confidence and destroying demand by continuing on this trajectory of poor quality control and inconsistent taste.

To address this issue, this project has conducted a large-scale consumer sensory evaluation exercise to provide a scientific basis to the Australian Citrus Quality Standards, which has led to wide-spread adoption of a new standard for oranges and mandarins.

Taste panels were conducted in Perth and Melbourne, and included six navel orange taste panels with 720 test subjects tasting 2160 fruit samples, and four Afourer mandarin taste panels with 480 test subjects tasting 1440 fruit samples. This exercise was the largest ever undertaken in Australia for citrus and lent confidence to adopt the BrimA method of expressing fruit maturity, and to set consumer acceptance thresholds based on this method. The new Australian Citrus Standards for oranges and mandarins (which adopt BrimA as the predictor of citrus likability) are now widely adopted by the entire supply‐chain.

This stage of the program is now complete, with the project continuing in order to improve the quality of fruit to the consumer.

 Samples ready for consumer surveys as part of the quality standards program

Increasing market access, profitability and sustainability through integrated approaches to fungal disease control (CT13020)

This project aims to overcome trade barriers by looking at fungal disease control in the citrus industry, with a focus on citrus black spot (CBS) and emperor brown spot (EBS). It includes investigating control protocols, improved fungicide options and the use of resistant varieties to reduce the use of fungicides. The final season of project work is now underway, with a treatment schedule commenced for the EBS trial. This trial will include a treatment specifically for residue removal experiments to be conducted at commercial maturity.

Driving citrus industry success through a co-ordinated market development program – stage 2 (CT13022)

New market opportunities and favourable currency rates have combined to boost the export sector in recent years for the Australian citrus industry. This key project supported a citrus market development team to provide structures and processes that have allowed the industry to capitalise on this fact.

The team managed projects dedicated to market access, market intelligence and quality improvement, and also had input into other projects across biosecurity, varietal development and capacity-building programs. The team also jointly managed the industry’s agrichemical residue monitoring program with the government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

As well as the above, highlights to come out of this project include assisting to grow China exports from 3500 tonnes in 2012 to 28,900 in 2015; resolving agrichemical issues in Japan; and strengthening industry, government and researcher networks.

This project built on the activities of stage 1 (project CT09055) and is part of the larger Australian Citrus Industry Innovation and Market Development Program (CT15012).

MRL risk analyses and risk management options for major citrus export markets (CT14003)

The purpose of this project is to collect, prepare and supply maximum residue level (MRL) information to keep the Australian citrus industry informed of changes that could lead to pesticide-related market problems for exporters. Through monitoring international and government publications and websites, updated MRL tables and residue guidelines are being produced/updated and provided to Citrus Australia for circulation to industry stakeholders.

Delivering a national citrus planting database 2014 (CT14010)

This project created on online system – the Citrus Tree Census – to collect and collate the individual planting data from all citrus growers in Australia. Access to this planting information is intended to assist businesses and industry stakeholders to develop short- and long-term crop forecasts; make informed decisions on future planting, top-working and tree removal choices; and improve planning for logistical requirements throughout the supply chain at a regional and national level. It will also help develop future market directions in the domestic, export and juicing sectors.

The data collected produced Australian Citrus Tree Census reports among others. The information has also been used to form the basis of an online export application system, developed to assist industry and the government to register citrus pack-houses and orchards for export.

The online system will continue to serve the industry well, with it becoming easier to collect data each year as more contributors take part. This project was the precursor to the below CT13037.

Delivering robust citrus market information for a more competitive industry (CT13037)

When it comes to exporting, keeping the citrus industry informed of short-, medium- and long-term supply volumes is essential. This project delivered plantings database updates, annual crop forecasts, weekly supply data and shipping volume data to the industry. Analysis of this data to aid industry planning was a key aspect of the project.

During this project, improved processes were developed for collecting data that have enhanced the supply of information to the industry. For example, the way national plantings data was obtained (through a custom-designed online data capture system as opposed to a paper-based system) has made an annual update of the national tree census feasible. For the first time, tree census data was also coupled with tree yield models to provide a citrus production outlook. This project was followed by the below CT14010, and the larger Australian Citrus Industry Innovation and Market Development Program (CT15012).

Ground-potassium trial site trees, part of project CT10030 (left) and the latest edition of Citrus News, producecd as part of the industry communications project (right)

Riverina Fruit Fly Campaign Co-ordinator (CT12010)

This project funded a Riverina Fruit Fly Campaign Coordinator to implement a grower-driven fruit-fly control program within the Riverina, covering all fruit fly susceptible crops. The program gained real traction among growers and the community, generating positive momentum for future Qfly management. Now 100 per cent of packing sheds in the area have adopted the policy of ‘No bait spray, trapping – then no taking of fruit’ and require growers to show evidence of Qfly management practices. Field days, workshops and media coverage also came out of the project, which is now complete.

Extension of citrus practices to maximise marketable fruit size and economic returns through on-farm trials (CT10030)

The key aim of this now-completed project was to extend to industry the production practices that increase the yield of marketable fruit and to identify non-profitable practices. The ultimate goal was to help improve the profitability, knowledge and skills of growers, and to give growers confidence to evaluate and adopt improved technologies. The secondary aim was to investigate and develop a suitable and efficient methodology to evaluate new technologies through on-farm trials.

Numerous on-farm trials were conducted on properties in the Sunraysia region that examined various products and practices. Products and practices trialled included potassium (ground and foliar applied), 2,4-D fruit sizing spray (Corasil®), winter gibberellic acid (GA, Ralex®), hand thinning, hand pruning, summer urea fruit sizing spray, GA flower fruit setting spray, young tree growth biostimulant enhancing sprays, kaolin clay foliar sprays and wind blemish assessment.

The results of these trials were extended to industry through annual field days, seminars and conference presentations.

Driving awareness and adoption of the citrus R&D program through targeted communications (CT13024)

This project engaged specialist consultants to develop and deliver a range of communications to keep the citrus industry up-to-date on market opportunities, local issues and other information. Main outputs included the industry’s flagship quarterly magazine, Australian Citrus News, as well as e-newsletters Season Update (monthly, on practical production-oriented news) and Citrus E-news (fortnightly). The project also provided communication/media coverage support for forums and field days.

This project built on the activities of the previous National Citrus Communications Program (CT10024) and will be continued through Citrus Industry Communications (CT15009) and Consultation on CT15009 (CT15015).

Other R&D projects of note…

Also of note in R&D for the citrus industry is the Protecting Australian citrus germplasm through improved diagnostic tools project (CT14009), which continues to assess diagnostic methods for graft-transmissible pathogens of citrus.

New citrus varieties are also being investigated through the project Evaluating new citrus varieties 2013-17 (CT12026). Last year 17 new citrus varieties were added to the evaluation, and more were added earlier this year. Field evaluation of this new material will begin in 2017/18, when the first fruit is produced from top-worked trees.

The National citrus postharvest science program (CT10006) has been on hiatus due to funding, but is set to recommence.

MARKETING SNAPSHOT

THE LATEST ACTIVITY THAT’S GROWING THE INDUSTRY

With exports currently representing the best return for Australian citrus growers, this year the marketing focus will continue to be on export promotions.

Investment in the Now In Season program is set build on the previous year’s in-market promotional activities. This multi-industry, multi-country campaign promotes Australian produce to priority international markets (China, Japan, The Philippines) as being of premium quality as well as sweet, safe and healthy.

There will be a focus on in-store retailer activities such as merchandising, sampling, point-of-sale material and consumer-focused promotions to drive awareness of Australian citrus and to encourage consumers to taste and purchase it.

International trade shows will also represent a key strategy for boosting the export and consumption of Australian citrus overseas. Australia Fresh (which is the industry export-market-development program for fruits, nuts and vegetables) will be exhibiting at three key international trade shows later this year in Hong Kong, Beijing and Dubai.

In Hong Kong, citrus marketing levies will be invested to showcase and support industry initiatives (such as the National Residual Survey and the Australian Citrus Standards) via the Asia Fruit Logistica (AFL) citrus stand, brochure and collateral.

The China World Fruit & Vegetable Trade Fair (China FVF), a major fresh produce trade show in Beijing, will provide citrus representatives access to key Chinese decision-makers to help maintain and advance Australia’s market-access goals. World of Perishables in Dubai will also allow networking between Australian exporters to Middle Eastern stakeholders.

For the domestic market, a smaller percentage of levy funds has been allocated to maintain support for the juice industry when the season ramps up. The advocacy-focused PR campaign will build on last year’s work.

GROWER STORY

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.

As 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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