Australian lemon growers should export, industry specialist says

Australia is seeing an increase in lemon plantings, including growth from growers entering the industry, according to Citrus Australia.

With increased growth there is a push for lemon growers to export produce.

Queensland grower Michael McMahon, from Abbotsleigh Citrus, who is part of the Nutrano Produce group, said that only 4 per cent of Australian lemons are exported, and with 9 per cent going into processing, 87 per cent are sold onto the domestic market.

Nielsen Homescan Data shows that 50.6 per cent of domestic shoppers buy lemons, spending on average $10.36 a year, down almost $2 compared to last year, and consuming 2kg of lemons a year.

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“Unlike other products like mandarins and oranges, customers don’t buy volumes when they are on special,” said McMahon.

“It’s inelastic demand. If they want two lemons, they’ll buy two lemons. The customer demand is pretty consistent regardless of price, so it is difficult to promote on price alone.”

Lemon sales spike during Easter in line with fish sales, and they spike again during Greek Easter, said McMahon.

Promotion targeting these special occasions, as well as the health benefits of lemons, is critical, he said.

Abbotsleigh Citrus has made a concerted effort to export more lemons in recent years and develop new markets to avoid the rising tide of Australian-grown lemons and to gain an advantage on exports from South Africa and South America.

The prices Abbotsleigh received in Indonesia for lemons recently was cheaper than the domestic market.

“We still made a profit but we’re thinking long-term and investing in development of export markets,” said McMahon.

He sees opportunities in China, Indonesia, Japan, Canada and the USA.

Hong Kong and Singapore are easy markets for most countries to access, while Indonesia can be unreliable due to quotas, according to Citrus Australia.

Growers exporting produce must be prepared to accept lower returns than have been realised in recent years, said McMahon.

Doing nothing will see returns drop far lower due to oversupply on the domestic market. They must also grow and pack quality fruit ‘to stay in the game’, he said.