Wonder fruit to the rescue

By LUIS FELIU

A FRUIT little-known in Australia could become the core of an exciting new multi-million dollar horticultural industry in the Tweed.

Feijoa, a tropical fruit rapidly growing in demand throughout the world due to its delicious, healthy qualities and versatility, has been touted as a future big-earning crop for the region.

While the fruit is very popular in New Zealand, it has yet to make its mark in Australia where a small trial crop was launched this year near Gympie in Queensland.

A farmers' forum at Murwillumbah has been told a feijoa industry in the Tweed and Northern Rivers region has the potential to create 1800 jobs and produce a $73 million annual crop in the next 10 years.

The news comes at a time when recent economic surveys have identified that the traditional agricultural base of the Tweed is changing dramatically.

With increasing pressure on sugar cane and bananas, and the loss of market-garden areas on the Tweed, feijoa production might be the crop to step in to breathe new life into the shire's agricultural base.

Gary Hutchinson, managing director of agricultural advisory firm Topoclimate Services, told the forum, organised by the Tweed Agricultural Working Group, that the region had all the right elements to make such an industry a success.

The fruit, Mr Hutchinson said, was related to the guava and eaten raw, but also had lots of value-adding opportunities with uses such as juices, ice-cream top-pings, baking products, wine and liqueurs.

"Juice made from feijoa mixed with apple is one of the most popular juices in New Zealand, and it makes a particularly nice wine and liqueur," he said.

"There is currently no commercial plantings of feijoa in Australia, which is very surprising ... it's a very popular and established industry in New Zealand where just about every backyard has a feijoa tree."

Mr Hutchinson, a director of venture-capital firm Australian Regional Development Company (ARDC), said the projected annual return per hectare of feijoa was $54,000 which, compared to other current land uses in the Tweed, was "a pretty good return".

"A 10-hectare block of feijoas after six years could return $540,000 gross or $300,000 net, which would make a reasonable sort of business for people who have a good 10 hectares of land," he said.

Mr Hutchinson said ARDC plans to establish a feijoa crop on 55 hectares of land in the Grafton area over the next 18 months "to kick-start the industry".

Feijoa, also known as pineapple guava, is a native of central South America and was introduced into New Zealand in the 1920s where it became widespread and shortly later into Australia.



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