Breaking the drought: Australia citrus

12/21/2010 10:49:00 AM
Tom Karst

The lack of up-to-date and publicly available data on citrus plantings continues, as is the case with numerous other Australian horticultural industries. Post believes the long-term trend is for a steady decline in the area planted to citrus as well as a decline in the total number of trees (although area is falling slightly faster than tree numbers as overall density increases). Over the past decade, poor profitability and severe drought has encouraged growers to exit the industry and this is driving the overall decline in area and tree numbers. The Valencia variety, which has traditionally been processed for juice, has been the most commonly removed citrus tree over this period.

Going forward, it is believed that the decline in tree numbers will slow. Improved water supplies and improved prices for oranges delivered to processors will partially constrain the decline going forward.

Production
Total fresh orange production for 2011/12 (year begin April 2011) is forecast at 430,000 MT. This represents an increase of over ten percent and a return to levels experienced in 2009/10. Improved seasonal conditions, including the wettest spring on record, is expected to dramatically increase yield per tree and this should see overall production surge despite lower tree numbers and planted area. Industry sources are expecting historically high (possibly record) fruit counts per tree. Current seasonal conditions have been described as “easy” and the usual early stage fruit drop has not occurred. Industry sources are concerned that, despite improved yield, individual fruit size will likely be reduced due to higher fruit numbers per tree. Despite efforts by producers to lighten the crop, sources are expecting higher orange production driven by higher yields per tree.

Production for 2010/11 has been revised downwards to 380 TMT. Severe drought conditions during spring in CY 2009 caused a historically large fruit drop reducing yield per tree. However, industry sources report an exceptionally high quality crop, due primarily to the historically large fruit size which, at times, was too large for some export markets.



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