Booming Australian citrus industry short of fruit due to global demand
Citrus growers around Australia are experiencing a boom, with demand and prices predicted to beat records for the third year running.
As the industry hits peak harvest and the middle of its export season, industry professionals are discovering there is not enough fruit to meet the global demand.
Sales manager for Mildura Fruit Company, Australia's largest citrus packer and exporter, Marcus Scott, said it was struggling to keep up.
"It's really fantastic, the citrus industry is in a good spot at the moment," Mr Scott said.
"We literally haven't got enough pieces of fruit to supply our existing customers without taking on any new ventures."
He said China, Japan and, to a lesser degree, North Asia are Australia's bread and butter and it was hard to ignore the price they were willing to pay.
"We're attracting a greater return than last season for a product that is as good or if not similar to last year. How high is too high?
The general demand for Australia citrus is at an all time high at the moment."
Mr Scott said although the size of some fruit was down and would not meet the premium markets, other countries were still prepared to pay.
"Markets like India and Bangladesh that we haven't supplied in the last two or three years because we've had large fruit are coming back into the fray and paying good money."
"Tonne wise, I think we could probably have twice as much and we'd still be short of supply."
A bright future for citrus
Part of the increased global demand is because a bacterial disease had affected crops in South America.
On top of that, the combination of reduced tariffs and a strong Asian economy have added to the surge in Australian exports.
South Australian citrus grower Peter Hill is based in the Riverland, and exports more than 60 per cent of the fruit from his Loxton property overseas.
He said this year's yield, fruit quality, and price were looking great.
"I think prices are probably up by around about 20 per cent, 20–25 per cent, the last few years have been reasonable but this year's export demand has strengthened prices."
"Our conditions in the Riverland are very favourable for growing citrus, the Riverland is probably regarded as one of the best places in the world to grow citrus."
Mr Hill said he, like many citrus growers, has had his fair share of challenges but he was confident this strong phase was here to stay.
"Hopefully they stay strong; at this stage they're looking good, but it wasn't that many years ago that being a citrus grower was extremely tough."
Australian growers' renewed confidence
Health benefits are also driving demand with new research out of Japan showing citrus fruit can reduce the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimers by almost one quarter.
Citrus Australia chief executive Judith Damiani said the industry had experienced this buoyant phase over the past couple of years, but this year was unprecedented. "We hope to see perhaps another record broken this year," she said.
"We can't supply enough at the moment, so that is really driving a lot of confidence back into the industry." Ms Damiani said she had never seen it like this in her 23 years in the industry, and it was not only exported fruit that was tasting sweet rewards.
A shortage of the juicing variety, valencia, which was once unprofitable, is now putting cash back into growers pockets.
Ms Damiani said many growers up-rooted their valencia trees due to a historical decline, and the few who kept their trees were now reaping the rewards. "Supply will become more of an issue for Australian juice production, fresh juice production," she said.
"It's great to see the industry in such a buoyant phase and in an expansion phase as well, considering we've had a tough decade."