Western Australian growers to trial new kiwifruit varieties from Miko Asia
While the Southern Hemisphere kiwifruit season is dominated by New Zealand and Chile, budding industries elsewhere are capitalizing on the market opportunities for the superfruit, as well as a raft of interesting new cultivars coming on the scene. After looking at South Africa as the "new kid on the block" last month, our attention turns to Australia, the closest of all to the key markets of Asia.
Just as New Zealand company Seeka Limited (NZX: SEK) has invested significantly into Australia's relatively small kiwifruit industry, another firm from the 'Land of the Long White Cloud' is also seeking out opportunities in the neighboring country.
The southern part of the state of Western Australia had its first kiwifruit planted by Delroy Orchards close to three decades ago and there is also a long-running nursery, but until now the focus has been on the traditional green Hayward variety.
New Zealand group Miko Asia hopes to change that through the introduction of new varieties in partnership with the government-funded Southern Forests Food Council, a group designed to add greater value to the agricultural areas around Manjimup, Pemberton, Walpole and Northcliffe.
The varieties come from Hunan University and are licensed to Miko by Changsha Yanoon Biotech for production outside China.
"My role is to promote and grow the value of agriculture for this region," says the council's produce coordinator John Kilrain.
"It was a five-year government-funded initiative and Murray [Malone, Miko's GM] came to us in the early days and identified this as somewhere we could potentially grow kiwifruit," he tells Fresh Fruit Portal.
"There is already an existing kiwifruit grower here that’s been here for a long time, but this was to bring new varieties and new growing methods that are used in New Zealand, which aren’t exactly the same as what’s used in this region."
After visiting New Zealand, Kilrain's team were satisfied with how growers produce the crop and thought it could have great potential for their neck of the woods.
"There are a lot of growers here that are pretty keen to know more about it. Where we've got to now is the varieties are in quarantine on the East Coast; they belong to Miko but we're basically the link between all the different producers and them to make it easier," he says.
"Probably from September onwards the varieties should start anding in Western Australia and from there we can get a bit of momentum, but this has been a three-year project already; it takes a long time to develop a project like this.
"But what we’re keen on is their expertise to come over here and teach other growers how to train the plants to grow the right way, or how to get the kiwifruit to grow to maximize the yield - that's what it's all about now. You've got to get your maximum yield for minimum cost, otherwise in a world market you’re in trouble aren’t you?"
He says the next step will be to put in a hectare of trial plots in a few different locations to see how the new varieties fare.
"From there it'll be up to individual producers where they want to take it," he says.
"The trials will soon give us a better idea about this, but we're hopeful that we should be able to get in before the New Zealand supply.
"And because of our closeness to Asia the freight time is less, so if we can get into the market two weeks earlier that’s a significant opportunity. That’s what you need to focus on now."
He emphasizes that in markets that can be oversupplied at times, the best strategy is to try and fill in gaps of timing.
"So it’s not about growing something 12 months a year; it's hitting it hard when there’s an opportunity and then stepping back.
"So that’s one of the key things that we hope will give these producers an opportunity - the timeframe for the market and the closeness to the market.
"That’s obviously offset a little bit by our wages here but New Zealand’s wage costs are slowly catching up to Western Australia’s wage costs, so time will tell I suppose."
New crops haven't however been a large focus of the council's main efforts, but rather boosting a region that is already known for its wide range of gourmet vegetable, fruit, nut and meat products.
"We’re in the midst of trying to get an export model that will make us more competitive because a lot of the volumes of produce down here are not massive - that's been the key focus for the last six months."