Mandarin growers switching their focus to more export-based production

A Queensland citrus company that produces five varieties of mandarins is looking to expand its exports into Asia to boost its returns, and decrease the reliance on Australian domestic markets.

Shepherd Citrus in Gayndah wants to change the production proportion to between 60-70 per cent towards export into Asian markets, as it believes the local supply window for Queensland Imperial Mandarins is being squeezed by Southern producers. Owner Ian Shepherd says this is putting pressure on growers to pick crops early and in a smaller supply window to receive economical returns.

"The export markets, both current and potential offer producers of high quality citrus alternatives to the tight domestic markets," he said. "There is also a growing trend toward low-seeded or seedless varieties, and they can be a challenge to grow to the required size and quality. Growers locally are transitioning away from the seeded varieties currently exported into new seedless export varieties as the demand for these grow in Asian markets with the Japanese market to be a primarily seedless market entirely. New seedless varieties offer a return to this market in the future."

After a very hot dry period and then a significant amount of rain this year's citrus harvest season in the area is around three to four weeks ahead of where it would normally be, but the company says the fruit is ripening very quickly and seems to be of a good quality and size. The weather has created a good growing season, but yields for this year seem to be average to just below average with a marked variability throughout different block.

"We expect the Imperial season to go until late May early June," Mr Shepherd said. "Later season export fruit continues to grow very well and quality, at this point, looks to be very high. Low-seeded Murcotts look also to be early, as do the later Honey-Murcott and it looks like being an early season all round. External skin quality seems to be very good, but this is difficult to gauge until all fruit is full colour"

While the early season Goldup Mandarins were among the first on the market this year, Mr Shepherd says the company has does not produce much of the variety.

"Goldup Mandarins are just an early Imperial variety and the supply window is tied to weather so often are in production at the same time as other Imperials," he said. "We have very few Goldups in production, preferring to concentrate on the more traditional Imperial variants for the local markets. We anticipate continuing to decrease the plantings of all Imperials as the blocks age to decrease our Imperial production to around 30 per cent to ensure that the domestic market supply remains in balance."

While it does grow other types of citrus, Shepherd Citrus mainly grows mandarins, with 60 per cent of production is growing and supplying Imperial Mandarins into Australian markets and then low-seeded Murcott and Honey-Murcott into mostly export Markets. The company supplies all domestic markets in Australia through Central Market Agents and its export markets are throughout Asia, the Middle East and Canada, depending on supply and prevailing market conditions.

"We also have significant new plantings of the entirely Seedless Tango Mandarin and expect production of these to build up over the next several years," Mr Shepherd said. "They have been planted to meet the significant and growing demand for high-quality, seedless Mandarins into the Asian markets."

For more information:
Ian and Judy Shepherd
Shepherd Citrus
Phone: +61 7 4161 1967

Publication date: 4/11/2018
Author: Matthew Russell