Freshmax Group, an Australian fresh produce marketing and distribution operator, showcases RICO pears. Slightly irreverent, superior in quality and full of personality, RICO is out to redefine how Australians perceive pears. Read more
Mareeba producers, Galati Farming are turning down the temperature on their fresh citrus produce and creating good jobs with the help of a Rural Economic Development (RED) Grant. Read more
Goulburn Valley, part of the SPC family, has unveiled a new look to better encapsulate the brand through a new campaign – “Taste the Good Life.” Read more
Coles has spent $43 million on a ripening facility in Melbourne that will support banana, avocado and mango growers in North Queensland and will ripen fruit from farmers across Australia.
It was built as part of a five-year agreement between Coles and growers collective Mackays Marketing and has the capacity to ripen 350 million pieces of fruit annually.
Using reversible air-flow ripening technology, the 7,280sqm facility is 70 per cent more energy efficient than traditional ‘tarped’ ripening systems, producing fruit that has been ripened as it is needed, improving shelf life for customers and reducing waste.
Mackays marketing CEO Richard Clayton said the partnership with Coles would be instrumental in encouraging greater consumption offresh fruit and vegetables to create a healthier nation.
“This project has bought best practice ripening technology to Coles and this will help us continue to regularly provide the very best quality bananas, avocados and mangoes to consumers,” he said.
The 5-star Green Star facility incorporates a number of sustainability measures, including rainwater tanks with a combined capacity of 100,000 litres and more than 1,790 solar panels — capable of generating electricity equivalent to the annual usage of more than 86 average Australian homes.
Auscitrus has strengthened its capacity to protect the nation’s budwood supplies from disease, focusing specifically on any future incursion of HLB, with the completion of its new protective screenhouse.
Grower levies, through Hort Innovation, funded the new climate-controlled structure, which will house budwood trees under insect-screened conditions, ensuring a source of HLB-free budwood for Australian citrus nurseries.
Supply trees at Auscitrus have been traditionally maintained in open-orchard conditions with routine testing but an increased prevalence of HLB in neighbouring countries and greater pressure on Australia’s quarantine borders mean the risk of an HLB outbreak has grown. HLB poses a significant threat because it can be transmitted by an insect vector, as well as in budwood.
The availability of HLB-free budwood is seen as a critical factor in mitigating the spread of any future incursion of HLB, and in redeveloping orchards potentially affected as a result of this.
READ MORE: Citrus essential oil demand in F&B growing
Auscitrus manager Tim Herrmann described the new facility as a “game changer”.
“All varieties in the future will be grown in pots under screens and we’ll slowly phase out the trees in the field, so we won’t have anything exposed to insects in case we were to get HLB or the Asian Citrus Psyllid in the country,” Herrmann said.
“We hope we never do, and that we never actually need the new facility, but we will be ready if it ever does arrive.”
Mr Herrmann designed the new facility after he and the Auscitrus committee travelled extensively through countries that have installed similar facilities in response to an HLB incursion, including the US, South Africa, and Brazil.
The plans were revised “over and over again” based on information gathered from each visit.
“For some time we’ve had an insect-proof foundation repository for our mother trees, this holds one tree of every variety (a second tree is in a separate facility at EMAI). We integrated that existing structure into our new insect screened complex.”
The existing buildings have been linked to the new growing areas with an insect proof atrium.
The majority of the structure is a standard steel frame commercial nursery structure with twin skin polyethylene on the roof and walls. Cooling pads are installed on one side of the structure and large extraction fans are used to extract the heat.
“We decided not to put roof vents in because they are too hard to insect proof,” Mr Herrmann said.
“All the fans and cooling pads in any area that has to be kept open for ventilation are covered in quarantine-standard insect screen to exclude any insects.
“Where we come into the building rather than having a single door there’s now a sealed double door entry way with positive pressure fans so when you open the door the air blows out past you.
“All staff go through foot baths and hand sanitising procedures. They then go through another door before entering the actual growing area.” Each of the growing areas are also sectioned off with a sliding door.
All staff have a set of five uniforms – one for every day. When they enter different growing areas there’s a dust coat specific to that growing area so they’re not transitioning pests.
Northern Tasmania was officially reinstated as a Pest Free Area on January 9, opening the door to domestic trade.
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud and Senator for Tasmania Steve Martin welcomed the news as a positive step forward for the local horticultural industry.
“Northern Tasmania is officially fruit fly free,” Minister Littleproud said. “No fruit flies have been detected in Northern Tasmania in the past six months thanks to eradication efforts and movement restrictions have been lifted.
“We are working with trading partners with the help of our overseas agriculture counsellors to get international trade back up and running. For the fruit exporters of Northern Tasmania we are working to make this happen as soon as possible.”
Senator for Tasmania, Steve Martin, said the reinstatement is great news for Northern Tasmania farmers who will no longer be subject to strict movement conditions.
“I am thrilled Northern Tasmania has been declared fruit fly free and we can re-commence the domestic trade of our clean, green, well renowned produce,” Mr Martin said;
“Tasmania’s horticulture industry is an important contributor to the economy and our agriculture industry as a whole.
In the 2018–19 Budget, the Coalition Government provided $20 million to the Tasmanian Government to support the state’s response to the Queensland fruit fly outbreak.
$100,000 was also provided to Fruit Growers Tasmania to help producers prepare for and respond to biosecurity incidents.
The Coalition also recently announced $16.9 million to support Australia’s ongoing commitment to a strong, effective, harmonised system for fruit fly management.
The first national program designed to encourage consumers to shop for fresh produce at their local independent retailer has been launched this month, which will unite the fruit and vegetable industry and bring back consumer loyalty.
The ‘A Better Choice’ program, a joint initiative by Fresh Markets Australia (FMA) and the Central Markets Association of Australia (CMAA), sees FMA and CMAA working hand-inhand with industry partners to conduct a range of branding and co-promotional activities.
The program supports 500 independent fruit and vegetable retailers nationally, who supply more than half of the fresh produce sold across Australia, by engaging consumers and highlighting the benefits of shopping at independent retailers.
FMA Chairman Shane Schnitzler said the national program will benefit growers, wholesalers, retailers and associated fresh produce businesses for generations to come.
“A Better Choice offers retailers the opportunity to come together and share the benefits of a national marketing strategy to shape a positive future for independent retailers, the central markets and local farmers who supply them,” he said.
“This program has been developed following in-depth research and feasibility studies to learn more about consumers’ shopping habits and what matters most to them when it comes to purchasing fruit and vegetables.”
A national consumer sentiment survey found the key motivators for consumers to shop at their independent retailer were the freshness of produce (92%), supporting a local business (90%), and trust in the quality of the produce (86%). However, more than 88 percent of people surveyed still chose to shop at supermarkets due to the perceived convenience.
“Whether it’s in the form of social media, flyers or in-store activities, our message to consumers is that when you see the ‘A Better Choice’ logo you can be assured that you are buying only the freshest produce that has been grown right here in Australia,” Mr Schnitzler said.
FMA works alongside the Central Market System which is made up of over 15,000 growers, supplying wholesalers in the major marketing and distribution hubs in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Newcastle.
The Central Markets are connected to every link in the supply chain and provide the critical connection between growers and consumers to bring the freshest produce to Australian tables.
Brisbane Markets Limited CEO Andrew Young believes a national program will educate more people about the benefits of shopping at independent retailers.
“Better Choice is really just that, a better choice for retailers, consumers and the industry. Australian growers produce excellent quality fresh produce and the A Better Choice program will help to highlight to consumers how they can better support local fresh produce growers and independent retailers,” he said.
‘A Better Choice’ was launched at Hort Connections on 18 June, the annual industry conference and trade show for buyers and sellers from every segment of Australia’s fresh produce and floral supply chain.
Biosecurity Queensland has confirmed the presence of Panama tropical race 4 on a third Tully Valley farm.
The Australian Banana Growers’ Council was advised that a vegetative compatibility group test (biological test) has conclusively confirmed the presence of the disease in samples taken from the farm.
The grower was issued a TR4 notice on January 23 after a suspect plant was found during routine Biosecurity Queensland surveillance.
Since then, the grower has worked closely with BQ and successfully complied with all their requirements. They resumed trading on January 27, just four days after the notice was given.
ABGC Chair Stephen Lowe praised the grower for their ongoing efforts at this difficult time.
“Obviously the confirmation of Panama TR4 on a third North Queensland banana farm is disappointing for the industry, and particularly for the grower concerned,” he said.
“But we know our growers are incredibly resilient and willing to help each other out in tough times.
“We’ve been preparing for the challenge of Panama TR4 and I’d urge all growers to ensure they have effective biosecurity measures in place.”
Measures such as implementing a footbath or footwear exchange, excluding unnecessary vehicle movement and managing plant material can go a long way in the fight against TR4.
Those living in or travelling to the region are asked to be mindful of quarantine areas and to stay out of all banana farms unless invited by the grower.
Mr Lowe also emphasised the fact that Panama TR4 has no impact on the fruit, nor does the industry expect any supply issues following this latest news.
“The best way you can show your support to Aussie growers is by continuing to buy bananas,” he said.
Panama TR4 was first detected in the Tully Valley in March 2015.
SPC is expanding its global footprint, launching for the first time into China with its Goulburn Valley and SPC fruit brands. Announced in partnership with China State Farm Agribusiness Shanghai (CSFA Shanghai) at a formal signing ceremony in Shanghai on Thursday, this major milestone demonstrates SPC’s continued momentum and the growing demand in China for Australian produce.
“In our 100th year, we are thrilled to be able to bring our premium Goulburn Valley & SPC packaged fruit to the largest consumer market in the world,” said SPC Managing Director Reg Weine. “China represents a significant business opportunity for SPC in the years ahead, and this is an important step in realising our growth strategy.
As well as being two of Australia’s most recognised, loved and trusted food brands, the products we are taking to China come straight out of the Goulburn Valley – the renowned food bowl of Australia. We aim to leverage this reputation, as well as our heritage and provenance when launching our brands in China,” adds Weine.
CSFA Shanghai, is part of the CSFA Group Corporation, will be SPC’s master distributor in China. According to Mr Weine, “it takes significant time and resources to build brands in overseas markets and CSFA Shanghai has the dedicated personnel, sales and marketing support we need to build our brands on the ground, as well as the distribution capability to reach China’s burgeoning middle class.”
Zhao Qingyong, General Manager, China State Farm Holdings Shanghai Corp said, “We have established strong business relationships with several Australian companies and we are very pleased to be partnering with SPC to continue developing successful businesses in China”.
To give the brand a consumer face in this new market, SPC has appointed Ye Yiqian, a well- known celebrity, singer and actress, as its brand ambassador for China.
“Ye Yiqian has already injected a great amount of personality and style into our brands ahead of our launch into the Chinese market,” said Weine.
Her passion for cooking, love of food, and her deep connection with aspirational Chinese consumers is something we believe will be advantageous for our launch and will help contextualise our products for this new audience.”
SPC’s plans include bringing its premium branded products to Chinese consumers through high-end supermarkets, speciality retailers and leading on-line and e-commerce platforms.
“It’s about taking our market leading brands into markets where provenance plays a part and there is a large enough consumer segment that is affluent and willing to pay a premium for Australian produce. The Chinese market is five times the size of the Australian processed fruit market, which makes this a huge opportunity,” Weine concludes.
Victoria’s Acting Minister for Trade and Investment John Eren, says: “SPC is a great Victorian company – and we’re proud to back them as they continue to expand into new markets and export our world class produce.”
SPC has been successfully exporting to international markets for more than 90 years, including in the USA, UK, Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan and the Middle East.
This month, a special kind of sliced apple will go on sale at select US supermarkets, and thanks to CSIRO research these apples won’t turn brown when they’re cut, bitten or bruised.
Arctic apples, have been developed by Canadian biotech company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. (OSF).
OSF is the first company to license CSIRO’s non-browning technology.
Their first product will be snack-sized bags of fresh Arctic Golden apple slices, with more non-browning varieties expected in future years, including Granny Smith and Fuji.
Company founder Neal Carter began working on the apples in the mid-1990s.
“I came across research from CSIRO that had managed to ‘turn off’ browning in potatoes,” Carter explained.
“As an apple grower, I was very aware that apple consumption had been declining for decades while obesity rates had simultaneously been sharply rising.
“My wife and I felt that we could help boost apple consumption through a similar biotech approach with apples, as non-browning apples would be more appealing and convenient.
“We felt this could also significantly reduce food waste, as nearly half of all apples produced end up wasted, many due to superficial bruising,” he said.
While there may be other sliced apple products already on the market, these are often coated with vitamin C and calcium to prevent browning and to preserve crispness, and this can change their taste.
Apples and other fruit and vegetables turn brown after they are cut or damaged because of a naturally occurring enzyme (polyphenol oxidase or PPO) that reacts with other components in the fruit cells when these cells are ‘broken’, producing a brown pigment.
CSIRO scientists constructed an anti-PPO gene which, when inserted into plants, blocks the production of PPO and therefore stops the browning.
Spoilage due to browning costs food processing industries worldwide millions of dollars each year in wastage and costly chemicals to prevent the reaction.
This non-browning technology has potential to reduce waste not only in apples and potatoes but also in other important horticultural crops, such as beans, lettuce and grapes where produce with only small injuries could still be sold.
New Zealand’s Tamarillo Co-operative has signed a major deal with a distributor allowing Tamarillo Marinade and Tamarillo Vinegar to be sold in the US and Canada.
The first of shipment of tamarillo pulp has left Whangarei for US-based food producer and distributor, Serious Foodie. Tamarillos are processed into pulp and vinegar concentrate in New Zealand and exported to Serious Foodie in bulk. Florida-based Serious Foodie then makes the pulp into Tamarillo Marinade and Tamarillo Vinegar.
Serious Foodie specialises in developing gourmet products for the home chef.
It introduced Tamarillo Marinade and Tamarillo Vinegar at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York at the end of June, receiving great feedback and so has started production. Serious Foodie Tamarillo Marinade and Tamarillo Vinegar will sell online, at US farmers’ markets and be distributed to gourmet supermarkets and stores across the US and Canada.
New Zealand Tamarillo Co-operative Director and Manager, Robin Nitschke said, “It was a rewarding achievement after working on the deal for two and a half years.”
Serious Foodie first contacted the co-operative more than two years ago interested in expanding its range of high-end specialty products. It believed an exotic fruit like the tamarillo would appeal to their discerning customers.
As well as the US deal, the Co-operative is working on other export opportunities. Robin Nitschke said vinaigrette and relish will shortly be shipped to Brisbane and negotiations are under way for vinaigrette concentrate to be introduced to European and Asian markets in a variety of products.
Robin Nitschke, with five other grower members, established the Tamarillo Co-operative three years ago. “Our aim is to have more influence at the beginning of the supply chain by channeling fruit through one merchant and then providing more choices to add value to the fruit at the end of the supply chain,” said Nitschke.
Robin Nitschke said that after gaining recognition in 2016 as finalists in the NZ Food Awards Artisan category, supermarkets, specialty food outlets and food service companies have had good demand for the co-operative’s For the Love of Tams, Tamarillo Relish and For the Love of Tams, Tamarillo Vinegar Dressing.
Australian fruit and vegetable growers have been warned by a visiting US horticulture expert that while the quality of their produce is “better than ever before”, the demands of the average consumer now starts at “perfection”.
In Australia this month to meet with local growers, Rabobank’s California-based senior fruit and vegetable analyst Dr Roland Fumasi (pictured) said the list of qualities that buyers were looking for in fresh produce continued to grow and had changed markedly in recent years.
“Consumers now expect the quality of their fruit and veg to be 100 per cent perfect, 100 per cent of the time,” Dr Fumasi said.
“They expect it to taste amazing, look good and to be extremely convenient and they want this all year-round. And that is just the starting point.”
Dr Fumasi said to gain customer loyalty, growers had to appeal to the deep-seated values of consumers.
“When you look at the buying habits of the middle-class consumer, not only do they now want a high-quality product – they are also looking for staunch food safety, transparency regarding production, sustainable farm practices that leave a lighter footprint on the environment and assurance that farmers are looking after their employees.
“And while these consumer demands are increasing, farmers are now also producing their fruits and vegetables in a more complex environment than ever before, with rising labour costs, water issues, changing environmental policies and government red tape.”
With challenge comes opportunity
While acknowledging the challenge of delivering “perfect” produce, Dr Fumasi insists there is a lot of opportunity to be had for farmers intent on meeting these demands.
“While this trend for high-quality, ethically-produced food is most evident in developed markets, it is also increasingly being seen in developing markets,” he said.
“Along with the rise in the global population we are also seeing a massive increase in the world’s middle class, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Within the next 10 years or so, it is predicted that 66 per cent of the world’s middle- class population will live in the Asia-Pacific and it is in this group of people where we see the biggest growth in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.”
Dr Fumasi concedes that food safety and consistent quality are still the biggest drawcards for Asian consumers willing to pay a premium for Australian produce but that their demands are likely to catch up with western markets very quickly.
“When you look at developing Asia, we are seeing the market catch up at an incredible rate, so it is only a matter of time until there is a major sector of this market that has the same demands as local Australian markets,” he said.
Online shopping drives transparency
According to Dr Fumasi, the retail trends of grocery shoppers in the US have become increasingly fragmented and the same trend is being witnessed in Australia, particularly among millennial buyers.
“The younger generation seem to be very comfortable purchasing from a variety of retail sources including traditional retailers, farmers markets, and value retailers such as Costco and of course buying online,” he said.
“In the US we have grocery websites that have gained good traction because of their reliability, convenience, traceability and for their ability to share background stories on the produce they sell.
“At the ‘click of a button’ not only are you able to select from 20 different tomatoes, but you can also see where they were grown, how they were grown and by whom, along with nutritional information and recipe ideas.
“Customers are also able to leave reviews, so if the product isn’t up to scratch it won’t be long until the negative reviews start pouring in.”
Dr Fumasi said while big retailers were starting to understand the importance of telling the backstory of the produce they sell, it was also up to farmers to be proactive in engaging with their customers.
“Australia has an excellent reputation for producing safe, delicious, attractive produce and that brand equity is a good platform to build a conversation with customers,” he said.
“Being able to be as open and transparent as possible with an audience and giving them an insight to exactly who you are and what you do, will not only gain loyalty for your brand but is likely to reflect positively on the industry as a whole.
“Today’s consumer has an extensive list of demands from producers and the technology to find the information they want at their fingertips, so it is important that the Australian fruit and vegetable industry is proactive in engaging this consumer and telling its story, before someone else does.”
Responsible for analysing the North American fresh fruit and vegetable industries, Dr Fumasi combines a background in agribusiness research with international market development and finance experience in the agriculture industry.
GP Graders has entered into a technology partnership with Ellips of Holland to revolutionise the ability for apple packers to identify apples with internal defects in order to meet the increasing supermarket demands which is crippling the industry.
“This cutting-edge technology will change the industry, and strengthen the packers ability to provide defect free apples to supermarkets,” said Stuart Payne, Managing Director, GP Graders.
The system uses light spectrometer technology and takes 10 images sliced across each apple to detect internal browning and core rot wherever it is located in the fruit.
The technology doesn’t just shoot a beam of light through the centre of the apple to look at the core in isolation, it also analyses the entire mass of the apple, slicing the apple at 10 incremental stages in order to check for internal rot or browning wherever it is located through the fruit. This is a standout feature of the technology as older technology only took one light image through the centre of an apple.
Ellips Chief Executive Officer, Erwin Baker oversaw the installation operating first hand at GP Graders’ head office in Melbourne, Australia, where the technology has been fitted to an operating apple line.
Bins of apples were run through the system allowing GP Graders to intensively test and demonstrate the technology.
“The results were remarkable,” said Payne.
Of those apples discarded to an exit with a reading of internal browning and core rot, 100% of them in fact showed those characteristics when cut open. Of those apples that were deemed not to have a reading of internal or core rot, only one single apple showed specific characteristics when cut into during the collation of test results. The total sample size was 1,500 apples.
On-site visits to GP Graders manufacturing plant to see the live demonstration of the technology working will be available until mid August with several sales already being concluded within days of its release.
GP Graders have been designing and manufacturing turn-key apple grading and packing lines since their beginning in 1963 with hundreds of packing lines in operations throughout Australia and the world.
Emblème Canneberge was started in 2016 by several Canadian growers to add value by offering frozen cranberries of exceptional quality. To equip their world-class production facility, they turned to Key Technology for a cranberry cleaning line. This integrated solution removes foreign material (FM) such as sticks, leaves, fines and stones, as well as berries that are too small, soft or rotten, while good fruit is washed and dried to a humidity of less than one percent.
“We selected Key Technology because they have the most experience in our industry and the best reputation. All of our customers have very high standards in the specifications of the berries they want, and Key helps us achieve those high standards,” said Vincent Godin, President of Emblème. “Our cleaning line removes foreign material as well as rotten cranberries, which would impair the quality of the good fruit in the freezer if not removed. This line is also very efficient at removing water to produce free-flowing product that’s easy to separate after freezing for further processing.”
Leveraging Key’s expertise in product handling and processing, this integrated cleaning line uses a variety of mechanical processes to elevate Emblème’s product quality while maximizing yield and consistently feeding downstream equipment. The Iso-Flo scalping shaker, air cleaner and Iso-Flo fines removal shaker eliminate unwanted FM from the product stream. The recently updated brush washer removes small, soft and rotten berries at the same time it washes good berries. The Iso-Flo dewatering shaker with air knives dries the good berries so they freeze efficiently and are easily processed later.
“We wanted an integrated line because having one source ensures the fit and function. Key built each machine so one drops product smoothly into the other. Because they are made to work together, installation and start-up was easy and the line runs efficiently,” explained Godin. “High efficiency is incredibly important to us, because we run two shifts a day, seven days a week during our six-week harvest to process 26 million pounds of product on this cleaning line.”
Built for rugged reliability and superior sanitation using Key’s versatile Iso-Flo vibratory design, the cleaning line at Emblème maximizes equipment uptime and hygiene.
The stainless steel shaker beds feature a rotary polish and continuous welds that are ground smooth within the product zone to resist bacterial attachment and improve food safety. Integrated scallops and stiffeners, limited surface laminations, sealed isolation springs and large access doors for easy cleaning further contribute to superior sanitation. “Almost everything on these Key shakers is made of stainless steel. This limits rust in our very wet environment and makes the equipment very easy to clean,” said Godin.
Iso-Flo shakers use independent frame-mounted drives and spring arm assemblies that distribute energy equally to all parts of the shaker bed in a controlled natural-frequency operation. This operating principle minimizes the vibration that is transferred to structural support and the floor, which cuts the cost of installation, reduces energy use and offers quiet operation. Key’s contoured StrongArm spring arms, made with propriety composite material, offer an operational life that is up to twice the life of traditional straight spring arms. The stainless steel Iso-Drive adds to Iso-Flo’s extreme dependability, reducing maintenance and improving performance and uptime.
“We measure success on our cleaning line by three criteria. One is the final moisture content of the product, which needs to be less than 1 percent. Second is FM removal – we want to remove as much FM as possible at the same time we limit good product removal in order to maintain a high yield. Third, we want to achieve these objectives while processing an average of 80,000 pounds of product per hour,” said Godin. “Our cleaning line from Key does all this and more.”
“We’re in business to add value. We add value when we clean and condition the fruit. We add value when we freeze clean product, and we add value when we size and sort frozen product,” explained Godin.
“We’re installing our sizing and sorting line now. It features an Iso-Flo mechanical size grader and a VERYX digital sorter, both from Key,” concluded Godin. “It’s always good to stick with a great supplier when you’ve got one. Key helps us maintain our high quality standards and reach the product specifications that our customers want.”
A new campaign launched by the National Measurement Institute (NMI) will help buyers and sellers get value for money as Australian fruit and vegetables make their way from the farm gate to the table.
The NMI’s ‘Harvest to Home’ trade measurement inspection program will run until June and involve oversight by NMI inspectors of the weighing, packaging and selling of fruit and vegetables throughout their journey from paddock to plate. The program will include:
- visits to 1,400 traders, ranging from producers to wholesalers and retailers
- testing 1,700 measuring instruments
- inspecting 11,000 lines of packaged goods
- making 200 ‘secret shopper’ trial purchases.
“We want to make sure that everyone involved in the fruit and vegetable industry, from importers and farmers to retailers, is aware of their rights and obligations under trade measurement laws“, General Manager for Legal Metrology at NMI, Bill Loizides, said.
“Each year in Australia, fruit and vegetables are moved from importers and farms to our homes in millions of measurement-based transactions. In fact, around five million tonnes of produce are bought and sold each year.
“Whether you’re a farmer, a wholesaler or a consumer, accurate measurement is vital to support trade, ensure fair competition among businesses, and give consumers confidence in what they’re buying.
“Where breaches of the law are detected, NMI inspectors will usually advise businesses on how to improve their trading practices to meet their legal obligations. However, where persistent or serious breaches occur, NMI may use a range of enforcement options, including fines and prosecution.”
In addition to site visits by trade measurement inspectors, the campaign is supported by a factsheet and a short video clip that is available through the department’s YouTube channel, websites and other social media sources.
Mr Loizides said that shoppers who were concerned that products had been weighed incorrectly or had incorrect measurement labels should contact the National Trade Measurement hotline on 1300 686 664 or email@example.com.
If you shop in a supermarket you may well have asked why the fruit and veg you buy there is so tasteless, especially if you’ve also tried homegrown alternatives. Traditional breeds of tomatoes usually grown in gardens, known as heirloom tomatoes, for example, are often small and strangely shaped and coloured but renowned for their delicious taste. Those in the supermarkets, meanwhile, are often pumped up in size but somewhat insipid to eat.
This is because plants used by most tomato farms have gone through an intensive artificial selection process to breed fruit that are big, red and round – but at the expense of taste. Now a 20-strong international research team have identified the chemical compounds responsible for the rich flavour of heirloom tomatoes and the genes that produce them. This information could provide a way for farmers to grow tomatoes that taste of something again.
The unique flavour of a tomato is determined by specific airborne molecules called volatiles, which emanate from flavour chemicals in the fruit. By asking a panel of consumers to rate over a hundred varieties of tomato, the researchers identified 13 volatiles that play an important role in producing the most appealing flavours. They also found that these molecules were significantly reduced in modern tomato varieties compared to the heirloom ones. And they found that bigger tomatoes tended to have less sugar, another reason why large supermarket fruits often fail to inspire.
Tomatoes originally hail from the Andean region of South America and belong to the Solanaceae family, making them relatively close relations of potatoes and peppers. The original, ancestral tomato was very small, more like a pea, showing just how much human intervention has swollen the fruit. We don’t know how long they have been grown for human consumption but they had reached an advanced stage of domestication by the 15th century when they were taken to Europe.
Before the 20th century, tomato varieties were commonly developed in families and small communities (which explains the name “heirloom”). With the industrialisation of farming, the serious business of tomato breeding began with intensive selection for fruit size and shelf life.
Some more recent effort has been put into improving the flavour of tomatoes through breeding. But the new research appears to indicate that this has ultimately been unsuccessful and that earlier breeding efforts have doomed modern commercial varieties to mediocrity.
The new paper, published in Science, emphasises what seems to be a constant conflict between the food industry’s desire for profit and what the public actually want. The researchers tactfully excuse the way tomatoes have been bred for size and shelf-life at the expense of taste as being down to breeders’ inability to analyse the fruit’s chemical composition and find the right volatiles.
But many people will find this hard to swallow. After all, the new research itself used the most ancient volatile analysis system there is: the human taster. It wouldn’t have taken much for farmers to incorporate taste trials into their breeding programmes.
Because modern farmed tomatoes have only lost their flavour in the last hundred years or so and varieties are still available that produce the tasty volatiles, it should be possible to reinsert the crucial taste genes back into commercial varieties. This could be done by genetic modification or conventional breeding. Just as we are seeing a resurgence in organic and artisan growing, it would be great to see a new generation of tomato breeders interested in returning flavour to the fruit using wild and heirloom varieties, while maintaining other commercially desirable traits.
There is significant public opposition to the idea of genetically modifying foods by inserting genes into a plant’s DNA in the lab. But the idea of reinserting lost genes may be more palatable to the public than introducing completely new ones. Either way, it shows how perverse the food industry’s methods are that we may need to use one of the world’s most advanced technologies to give an inherently delicious food some flavour.
A sustainable farming company is building one of the world’s largest privately-owned pomegranate gene banks to help revive the potentially lucrative industry Down Under.
Group Kinetica, based in Adelaide, South Australia, has launched PomPersia and has seven pomegranate test farms around Australia, including a gene bank in South Australia. It aims to expand to become a conglomerate of 200 growers by 2025.
Demand for pomegranates globally has spiked in recent years as health experts promote the “super fruit’s” anti-oxidant, anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.
At the same time, Australia’s fledgling industry has taken a hit from a mystery dieback condition, which has devastated many farms, including some of the industry’s biggest players.
Global production of the ancient fruit is about 4 million tonnes a year with major producers being Iran, India, China, Turkey and the United States. Less than 2 per cent of the world’s supply is grown in the southern hemisphere, mainly in South America. Australia produces about 4000 tonnes a year or 0.1 of 1 per cent of the global market.
Group Kinetica and PomPersia founder Omid Rad has spent seven years importing Pomegranate plants mainly from Iran and has developed a gene bank of 307 varieties at a test farm in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills run by Patrick Ryan.
The trees are being propagated and tested for regional suitability at seven farms in South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.
Rad hopes to establish 12 regions across Australia with about 12 varieties available to farmers in each region.
“Then you work to hybridise to create the best fruit with the right size, the right shape and the best flavour,” he said.
Rad said ensuring varieties were well matched to growing conditions would lead to high yields and healthy trees.
He said keeping each farm small, 5ha to 15ha planted out at the rate of 948 trees per hectare, would help keep labour costs down and enabled farmers in each region to help each other.
Under the PomPersia model, trees and expert advice are provided for free in exchange for royalties when commercial fruit is produced. Trees take three years to begin producing fruit and reach peak production after five or six years.
“The biggest problem we have in Australia is manpower at a reasonable rate – so we back small farmers,” Rad said.
“We don’t want them to grow 500ha, we want them to grow 15ha masterfully without the need for hiring transient labour.
“The idea is there would be enough farms near him to make it possible for five farming families to focus their picking on Patrick’s farm this weekend, Tom and Jerry’s farm next weekend and so on.
“What Patrick has learnt will never escape him but transient labour will. If we do this and instead of having one farm of 200ha, have 40 farms of 5ha each then I think the success rate will be drastically improved.”
Almost 40 trial varieties will be planted at a new farm in South Australia’s Riverland – Australia’s largest wine region – in January 2017.
Rad said wine and citrus growing regions were ideal targets for pomegranate farms because they already had infrastructure, including irrigation, in place and they offered a viable alternative for growers struggling to make a profit in the saturated wine grape industry.
He said he wanted to partner with governments and industry to help growers shift resources from loss-making ventures into profitable ones such as pomegranates.
“The three South Australian regions we’re focusing on are Riverland, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley and I’d like to think we can have 50 farms producing pomegranates in those three regions within 10 years,” he said.
“The exact same thing can be replicated in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. I’d like to think PomPersia will be a conglomerate of 200 growers by 2025 at various stages of commercial production.
“For the first three years we had only one farm. In the last 12 months we have added four and in the next 12 months I believe we will have 10 more. It’s gaining momentum but we need to grow ourselves before we can help others grow.”
Demand for pomegranates domestically is on the rise, providing Australian growers an opportunity to produce fruit for the local market and reduce the reliance on imports.
The southern hemisphere picking season runs from about February to May opposed to the September to November harvest in the northern hemisphere.
Rad said this provided a “golden opportunity” for high quality Australian fruit to be exported, particularly to Asia.
“Korea and Japan are markets we should be tapping into – South Korea gets the bulk of their pomegranates from Iran and California,” he said.
“Off-season they don’t eat it but they want it.
“Europe gets its off-season pomegranates from Peru and Chile but there’s no reason that couldn’t be us.”
PomLife is Australia’s largest pomegranate grower with about 80,000 trees over 110ha. The Victorian company produced 1500 tonnes last harvest, about half of the nation’s commercial crop in 2016, but has the potential to reach about 3500 tonnes in coming harvests.
PomLife fruit is sold fresh, as pure pomegranate juice and also sold as value added products such as fresh aril punnets and powder.
Australia is a net importer of pomegranates, bringing in almost as much as it produces every year from California in the off-season.
PomLife General Manager Joshua Reuveni said growing high quality pomegranates in Australia and working out effective storage methods was a real challenge.
He said while exporting fruit in the off-season might seem like a good opportunity, cheap pomegranates flooding Asian markets from South America made it unrealistic.
While there was some room for growth in the immature Australian market, Reuveni said any new fruit would need to be of premium quality to be viable.
“We get quite a lot of phone calls from farmers looking for advice so it is growing slowly,” he said.
“We welcome new growers because there is room for co-operation but it is very delicate because there is still a lot of education to do and it will take a lot of time for the fruit to become a household item in Australia.”
Finding small windows of opportunity on the other side of the world and using technology to pinpoint specific flavours is helping an Australian apple producer reach new markets.
Lenswood Apples in the Adelaide Hills grows, packs and markets more than 20,000 tonnes of fruit annually, which accounts for 70 per cent of South Australia’s apple crop and nearly 10 per cent of Australia’s national production.
The co-operative began an expansion push in 2010 and now exports about 2000 tonnes a year to eight countries across Asia, the UK and Middle East.
It recently delivered 50 shipping containers of premium Pink Lady apples to the United Kingdom following a deal with supermarket chains Tesco and Morrisons.
Lenswood Apples CEO James Walters said a hi-tech packing machine and being able to identify and act quickly on opportunities had been keys to the export growth.
“We identified there’s a four to six week window at the end of the southern hemisphere season and before the start of the northern hemisphere season where there was a gap,” Walters said.
“Countries like South Africa and New Zealand that had traditionally filled that gap were having quality issues with their fruit.
“There was an opportunity for us to do 50 or 60 containers if we could get the job done right.”
“We couldn’t have even considered it before.”
Getting the “job done right” included growing the fruit so it met EU standards and obtaining packing shed accreditation while maintaining local customers.
The 50 containers of premium apples were packed in the first four weeks of the new packing machine’s operation before making the six-week boat journey from South Australia to England.
“We went over there to see our first few containers arriving and to see very good out-turns of the fruit was pleasing,” Walters said.
“Now Southeast Asia starts to open up and we are shipping to Malaysia and Thailand now. They were existing markets but with the new equipment we are able to identify the sweeter fruit, which is what they want.
“Because Australian apple production is high cost we’re always looking for unique market opportunities, we’ve got to be quite selective and when we go we’ve got to be prepared to go pretty hard.”
Lenswood Apples looked to French company MAF Roda Agrobotic to source the $5m sorting and packing equipment.
The pre-sizer machine takes 100 photographs of each apple to instantly sort them by size, colour, grade and quality and uses infrared technology to assess sweetness levels and check for internal imperfections.
The system, which also washes and weighs fruit, has enabled the co-operative to process apples at a higher speed and more accurately and precisely than ever before.
Walters said the new line could clean and sort up to 22-tonnes an hour compared with 8 or 9 tonnes under the previous system.
It also involves a bank of screens in the control room to allow staff to monitor, analyse and select random samples for further checks.
A new focus on trademark and targeting unique fruit varieties such as Pink Lady, Rockit, MiApple and Red Love to specific markets has also been a key to growth.
“Four years ago we looked at our export and it was less than 1 per cent of our total turnover, this year it will be nearly 10 per cent and by 2020 we’d like to see it at about 30 per cent,” Walters said
“We bought our first pre-sizer in 2010 and by 2016 we’ve already had to upgrade it because the volumes have come on.
“One thing at Lenswood is we’re not scared of looking at new innovation that comes up at any time – we put the first bio-waxer in last year that polishes every apple up like a toffee apple – so we’re always looking at what we can do, whether it be pre-packing equipment, apple varieties, farm equipment, we certainly like to be on the cutting edge.”
About 30km east of the South Australian capital Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills is a long-standing apple and pear growing district, which is also gaining a global reputation as a wine region.
Lenswood Apples has this year also opened a joint venture juicing plant to add value to its off-grade fruit. The juice is predominantly sold to large-scale cider makers.
The banana is the world’s most popular fruit crop, with over 100 million metric tons produced annually in over 130 tropical and subtropical countries. Edible bananas are the result of a genetic accident in nature that created the seedless fruit we enjoy today.
Virtually all the bananas sold across the Western world belong to the so-called Cavendish subgroup of the species and are genetically nearly identical. These bananas are sterile and dependent on propagation via cloning, either by using suckers and cuttings taken from the underground stem or through modern tissue culture.
The familiar bright yellow Cavendish banana is ubiquitous in supermarkets and fruit bowls, but it is in imminent danger. The vast worldwide monoculture of genetically identical plants leaves the Cavendish intensely vulnerable to disease outbreaks.
Fungal diseases severely devastated the banana industry once in history and it could soon happen again if we do not resolve the cause of these problems. Plant scientists, including us, are working out the genetics of wild banana varieties and banana pathogens as we try to prevent a Cavendish crash.
The cautionary tale of ‘Big Mike’
One of the most prominent examples of genetic vulnerability comes from the banana itself. Up until the 1960s, Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” was the prime variety grown in commercial plantations. Big Mike was so popular with consumers in the West that the banana industry established ever larger monocultures of this variety. Thousands of hectares of tropical forests in Latin America were converted into vast Gros Michel plantations.
But Big Mike’s popularity led to its doom, when a pandemic whipped through these plantations during the 1950s and ‘60’s. A fungal disease called Fusarium wilt or Panama disease nearly wiped out the Gros Michel and brought the global banana export industry to the brink of collapse. A soilborne pathogen was to blame: The fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc) infected the plants’ root and vascular system. Unable to transport water and nutrients, the plants wilted and died.
Fusarium wilt is very difficult to control – it spreads easily in soil, water and infected planting material. Fungicide applications in soil or in the plant’s stem are as of yet ineffective. Moreover, the fungus can persist in the soil for several decades, thus prohibiting replanting of susceptible banana plants.
Is history repeating itself?
Cavendish bananas are resistant to those devastating Fusarium wilt Race 1 strains, so were able to replace the Gros Michel when it fell to the disease. Despite being less rich in taste and logistical challenges involved with merchandising this fruit to international markets at an acceptable quality, Cavendish eventually replaced Gros Michel in commercial banana plantations. The entire banana industry was restructured, and to date, Cavendish accounts for 47 percent of the bananas grown worldwide and 99 percent of all bananas sold commercially for export to developed countries.
But the Cavendish unfortunately has its own weaknesses – most prominently susceptibility to a disease called Black Sigatoka. The fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis attacks the plants’ leaves, causing cell death that affects photosynthesis and leads to a reduction in fruit production and quality. If Black Sigatoka is left uncontrolled, banana yields can decline by 35 to 50 percent.
Cavendish growers currently manage Black Sigatoka through a combination of pruning infected leaves and applying fungicides. Yearly, it can take 50 or more applications of chemicals to control the disease. Such heavy use of fungicides has negative impacts on the environment and the occupational health of the banana workers, and increases the costs of production. It also helps select for survival the strains of the fungus with higher levels of resistance to these chemicals: As the resistant strains become more prevalent, the disease gets harder to control over time.
To further aggravate the situation, Cavendish is also now under attack from a recently emerged strain of Fusarium oxysporum, known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4). First identified in the early 1990s in Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia, TR4 has since spread to many Southeast Asian countries and on into the Middle East and Africa. If TR4 makes it to Latin America and the Caribbean region, the export banana industry in that part of the world could be in big trouble.
Cavendish varieties have shown little if any resistance against TR4. Growers are relying on temporary solutions – trying to prevent it from entering new regions, using clean planting materials and limiting the transfer of potentially infected soil between farms.
Black Sigatoka and Panama disease both cause serious production losses and are difficult to control. With the right monitoring in place to rapidly intervene and halt their spread, the risks and damage imposed by these diseases can be considerably reduced, as has been recently shown in Australia. But current practices don’t provide the durable solution that’s urgently needed.
Getting started on banana genetic research
If there’s a lesson to be learned from the sad history of Gros Michel, it’s that reliance on a large and genetically uniform monoculture is a risky strategy that is prone to failure. To reduce the vulnerability to diseases, we need more genetic diversity in our cultivated bananas.
Over a thousand species of banana have been recorded in the wild. Although most do not have the desired agronomic characteristics – such as high yields of seedless, nonacidic fruits with long shelf life – that would make them a direct substitute for the Cavendish, they are an untapped genetic resource. Scientists could search within them for resistance genes and other desirable traits to use in engineering and breeding programs.
To date, though, there’s been little effort and insufficient funding for collecting, protecting, characterizing and utilizing wild banana genetic material. Consequently, while almost every other crop used for food production has been significantly improved through plant breeding over the last century, the banana industry has yet to benefit from genetics and plant breeding.
But we have started taking the first steps. We now know the genome sequences of the banana and the fungi that cause Fusarium wilt and Sigatoka. These studies helped illuminate some of the molecular mechanisms by which these fungal pathogens cause disease in the banana. That knowledge provides a basis for identifying disease-resistant genes in wild and cultivated bananas.
Researchers now have the tools to identify resistance genes in wild bananas or other plant species. Then they can use classical plant breeding or genetic engineering to transfer those genes into desired cultivars. Scientists can also use these tools to further study the dynamics and evolution of banana pathogens in the field, and monitor changes in their resistance to fungicides.
Availability of the latest tools and detailed genome sequences, coupled with long-term visionary research in genetics, engineering and plant breeding, can help us keep abreast of the pathogens that are currently menacing the Cavendish banana. Ultimately we need to increase the pool of genetic diversity in cultivated bananas so we’re not dependent on single clones such as the Cavendish or the Gros Michel before it. Otherwise we remain at risk of history repeating itself.
Ioannis Stergiopoulos, Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis; André Drenth, Professor of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, and Gert Kema, Special Professor of Phytopathology, Wageningen University
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