GUNNIBLE Pastoral Company is reaping the rewards of an international orange shortage – tripling its export to China and starting its picking season a month early to keep up with unprecedented demand.
The Gunnedah-based operation began picking last month and is expected to export some 300 tonnes by the end of the season. That’s just a fraction of the 1500 tonnes of oranges the orchard produces each year.
Gunnible owners, the Hoddles, came into the orange game a decade ago, after the collapse of lamb prices, the closure of the local abattoir, and a report identified the region as prime citrus-growing land.
“It’s precision agriculture because we are working on an orange farm and only using 100 acres of Gunnible to produce 26,000 trees, so it’s very intense,” Gunnible marketing director Edward Hoddle said.
“Their water use is 5 megalitres per hectare. It’s the same as cotton, but cotton is not a permanent plant, while an orange tree is. So in terms of efficiency, an orange tree will give you a return for your water by about four times the amount.”
The trees were originally planted for mechanical harvest, but the orchard now relies on local workers and backpackers for picking when the demand is there.
“This year demand is absolutely through the roof,” Mr Hoddle said.
“We started picking a month earlier than we had anticipated, and we’re going through at lightning speed.”
Mr Hoddle said a worldwide shortage of oranges – on the back of a disease outbreak in oranges in North and South America – had driven up demand for Gunnible’s oranges.
“Last year we exported 100 tonnes of oranges to China,” he said. “This year, we will take that figure up to 200 or 300 tonnes to China.”
Gunnible also has long-term relationships with domestic companies to juice its oranges, and has recently purchased infrastructure to class and grade the fruit to be bagged up as table fruit.
Gunnible is about to plant another 10 hectares of the Salustiana variety, which equates to about 10,000 trees.
Mr Hoddle is hoping more farmers across the region turn to orange production while the market is so strong.
“Gunnedah is in a very fortunate position in that it has a very strong chamber of commerce, and a brilliant new mayor in Jamie Chaffey, who has extensive dealings with China, and he’s trying to foster relations with its sister city in China,” he said.
NSW orange production up in 2015-16
New South Wales accounted for 23 per cent of the value of Australia’s total agricultural production, nationally worth $56 billion in 2015-16, according to Agricultural Census data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
ABS Director of Environment and Agriculture Statistics, Lauren Binns said across Australia in 2015-16 there were a total of 85,681agricultural businesses with 26,124 operating in New South Wales.
The businesses contributed $13.1 billion to the national economy.
“Some of the interesting data for New South Wales was an increase in orange production which rose by 26,000 tonnes (15 per cent) to 193,879 tonnes in 2015-16. The value of the orange crop in that year rose 14 per cent to $148 million.
“And the New South Wales sheep and lamb flock of 26 million head was 38 per cent of the total Australian flock at 30 June 2016,” Ms Binns said.
New South Wales data also showed a 16 per cent drop in water use for agriculture – down from 3,116,490ML in 2014-15 to 2,610,856ML in 2015-16.