Citrus season unpeeled

Citrus season unpeeled


Horticulture
Troy Emmerton, Quebec Citrus, Mundubbera, is one-third of the way through this season's harvest.

Troy Emmerton, Quebec Citrus, Mundubbera, is one-third of the way through this season's harvest.

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HARVEST season for their sweet crop has kicked off, but already Queensland mandarin growers are being left with a sour taste.

Aa

HARVEST season for their sweet crop has kicked off, but already Queensland mandarin growers are being left with a sour taste.

Key figures backed by the latest update from the productivity commission are testament to the efficiency of Australian farmers, yet Troy Emmerton, Quebec Citrus, Mundubbera, reckons profitability is not following suit.

Now one-third of the way through this season's harvest, the former Queensland Citrus Growers vice-president said poor conditions and rigid market controls were resulting in burgeoning costs that far outstripped returns.

Following on from 2013's devastating floods, Mr Emmerton said this year the region had endured extreme drought, resulting in "phenomenal" power and water costs. Just as harvest was about to kick off last month, the Emmertons received 102mm of rain on their crop - 45 per cent destined for Coles and Woolworths.

"We got the first lot all picked and packed, and then the fruit started to break down at the end of its destination because the rain caused some fungus to form in it," he said.

"So what Coles and Woolies did was send it on a truck all the way back from Melbourne, and we had to pay double freight."

The Emmertons' 180-hectare operation - and two other farms in the district - produces 40pc of the state's mandarins, yet they are virtually voiceless when it comes to their product.

"To grow good fruit you need to have all the right management practices in place. That comes with high labour cost, high power, water and chemical costs, and yearly freight increases."

The Emmertons are still receiving the same prices they did 20 years ago and, like many other farmers, have no other market for a yield their size.

"They have the monopoly, and they only take the best of the best. Unless they get really short, we are stuck with all the rest."

Even more frustrating for North Burnett growers is to find imported citrus on the shelves of their local supermarkets.

"I went into the shops the other day, and the oranges they had were US navels."

With the domestic market shot to pieces, their saving grace and the only lucrative option was to export - particularly to China.

"They only take the stuff with the perfect shiny skin, but they will pay good money for it. That's about the only silver lining."

He hailed the government's south-east Asian citrus campaign, which had resulted in a 70pc increase in sales.

"Australia is synonymous with safe, clean fruit. We are renowned worldwide for our green growing methods," he said.

Although Mr Emmerton reckons the days of causal farming are over, the third-generation citrus grower admits to still enjoying producing food that is clean and healthy.

"The days of taking the kids to Hervey Bay for a fishing trip may be long gone, but we seem to get by all the time," he said.

"We whinge about it, but we're still here."

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