FINDING new routes to market that cut out the ‘middle man’ are emerging as the latest trend in the rise and rise of Australian wine sales in China.

China last year overtook the United States to become the biggest buyer of Australian wine, following a 40 percent growth in sales for 2016. Exports of wine to mainland China rose from A$370 million in 2015 to $520 million in 2016. 

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THE Federal Government has steered its Fair Farms initiative through stakeholders in the horticulture industry in a bid to restore consumer and public confidence in the sector as an ethical employer.

Fair Farms aims to offer growers in the horticulture sector “the tools they need to ensure workers are treated fairly” according to Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Anne Ruston. The industry has been hit by media exposure of unfair work practices, especially in relation to international students working in the sector on temporary working holiday visas. 

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EXCLUSIVE Honey Gold mango producer, Piñata Farms, will continue to expand plantings in the Northern Territory – now a major growing region – following a successful 2016-2017 mango season.

Piñata Farms  managing director Gavin Scurr said the volume produced over summer was consistent with previous years, despite being three weeks shorter. 

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AGRIBUSINESS mergers and acquisitions specialists InterFinancial have logged a recent uptick in price-earnings (PE) ratios in the sector.

Through to the end of November, the food and agribusiness sector tracked by InterFinancial and informed by research through S&P Capital IQ, showed multiples had increased over the quarter and reached the 19.5 times PE in November. That is a significant lead over the ASX200 average PE of 17.6x. 

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THE Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) is forecasting a decrease in the  future log availability from Australia’s commercial plantations.

In its report, Australia’s plantation log supply 2015–2059, released recently by the acting executive director of ABARES, Peter Gooday, the volume of plantation logs harvested from Australia’s plantation estate has been shown to consistently grown over the past decade. It now accounts for 85 percent of all logs harvested in Australia. 

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WESTERN Australia’s South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA) – as part of the ‘Do it yourself (DIY) Precision Agriculture’ project funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) – has published working examples of precision agriculture in practice to assist farmers.

SEPWA’s new publication, Calculating return on investment for on farm trials, contains case studies and examples of how Western Australian growers have used precision agriculture (PA) tools to implement and measure on-farm trials. 

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QUEENSLAND strawberry producer, Piñata Farms, has been picking its first substrate-grown strawberries at Wamuran on the Sunshine Coast, after venturing into substrate production over winter.

Managing director Gavin Scurr said the quality of fruit produced using the substrate method had so far exceeded expectations. 

“The eating quality is superb and the berries have a vibrant colour with a natural sheen,” Mr Scurr said.

“Because they’re growing under polytunnels, they’ve stayed warm throughout winter and that’s resulted in brighter, cleaner fruit.”

Piñata Farms grows winter strawberries at Wamuran and summer strawberries at Stanthorpe, southern Queensland, for year round availability. Fruit is produced both in the open field and under polytunnels. Substrate strawberries grow in coconut coir on tiered shelves.

Mr Scurr said the Albion variety, which Piñata Farms had produced for some time, was the chief variety being grown in substrate. US-developed varieties, Portola and San Andreas were being trialled.

“As the substrate harvest progresses, all indications are for a positive outcome,” Mr Scurr said. “We’re hoping to keep producing substrate fruit at Wamuran for several months yet.

“By then, harvesting will have begun at Stanthorpe, leading to peak production in November. There should be a plentiful supply of Piñata strawberries right through until Christmas.”

Mr Scurr said he expected the field-grown harvest at Wamuran to end by early October, depending on the weather. 

“Once the temperature reaches 30 degrees, it starts to get challenging as it’s too hot for the fruit.”

Mr Scurr said it had been a tough season for Queensland strawberry producers with yield down about 20 percent on a per plant basis across the industry.

“That's due to an unseasonally warm autumn which delayed planting for many growers and resulted in plants being less robust than usual,” he said.

However, early substrate results at Wamuran had buoyed hopes for a good start to summer production, he said.
“Wamuran's climate means we can produce field-grown and substrate strawberries progressively from now on, with the aim being to extend the season as late as possible to fill a supply window in October and November.

“At Stanthorpe, both field and polytunnel crops produce at the same time, so we’ll aim to produce fruit earlier there, so there’s no drop in the total yield between the farms.”

Piñata Farms has selected three new European-bred varieties for commercial trials following Mr Scurr’s recent visit to some of Europe’s best strawberry breeders. Depending on the outcome of trials, they will be commercially produced in 2020.

“We’ve selected two winter varieties to grow at Wamuran,” Mr Scurr said. “Both have a better yield while maintaining flavour. The variety we’ve selected for summer production has been specifically chosen to fill a supply window in the April-May period.”

Mr Scurr said varietal selection was key in Piñata Farms’ quest to produce strawberries outside the traditional Queensland strawberry season.
“The industry would produce three times as much fruit in September than in October. We’re trying to plug gaps at both ends of the supply period by looking at varieties and matching them to growing methods and growing regions.”

Piñata strawberries are available at leading supermarkets in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.




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