Article by: Hari Yellina
A prominent citrous grower in Queensland acknowledges that the weather has made things difficult this season, but that the demand has improved after a sluggish start. There are still a few weeks left in the season for Benyenda Citrus, which started in April. According to operations manager Matthew Benham, the increased rainfall undoubtedly created some difficulties, such as harvest delays and some early variety skin problems. The weather, according to Mr. Benham, was responsible for more than 60% of the season’s shortcomings. We had a little amount of wind early on, so the fruit was a little scratchy, and our first-grade pack-outs are somewhat down. Quality-wise, it has also been down a little bit.
The weather has been this year’s biggest problem overall; in fact, all of our quality-related problems have been related to the weather. Additionally impacted were our mid-season variety. We have some Daisy mandarins, and up until this year, we had never really noticed any weather or water damage on them. On the banks of the Burnett River, 25 kilometres north-east of Gayndah in Queensland, is where you’ll find Benyenda Citrus. The company mostly grows citrous, including limes, red grapefruit, red navel oranges, several varieties of mandarin, and lemons. Walter Benham planted the first orange tree in 1924, and that was where it all began. Currently, the third and fourth generations of Walter’s family are in charge of running the firm, which packs fruit from four orchards.
The daily management of all the operations, including the on-site packing shed, is led by Matthew and Murray. Each citrous season, Queensland growers are the first to supply the Australian market, but according to Mr. Benham, the timing of Australian holidays meant that demand did not begin as strong as usual. He stated, “I have never seen such an odd start to an Imperial mandarin season.” “At first, the crop wasn’t that large, but with all the nearby public holidays, school holidays, and a late Easter, we started picking, and then all of a sudden everyone was on vacation. On vacations, people aren’t buying mandarins; instead, they’re probably craving a drink and a pork pie. That was funny because nothing was actually moving and the prices quickly returned.”
“For the first two weeks of April, you typically cannot supply enough imperials. It wasn’t until after the holiday season that the price started to rise once more. The season was ultimately cut short by some weather-related damage and wetness. At the beginning of the season, lemons returned to some semblance of normalcy as all the foodservice establishments reopened following the limitations placed on restaurants and cruise ships (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). But due to the arrival of the southern states, they have somewhat decreased.”
The principal citrous lines are lemons, mandarins of the Imperial and Murcott kinds, and oranges. However, he asserts that at the beginning of the season, before the southern seasons begin, red grapefruits can be a valuable source of revenue for the business. The late-season Murcott cultivars, which are mostly exported for markets, are now being grown by Benyenda Citrus for markets, mainly in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Thailand. The shipping timeline has shifted, and procuring the equipment is currently the biggest drama, according to Mr. Benham. “There used to be a boat travelling to Thailand every week, but now many of them only go every other week.
This year, it has been challenging to coordinate the harvest and get the boat there in time. Moving fruit into some of the foreign markets has not been too difficult, especially for the composite fruit that is cheaper for stores. However, it has an impact on the bottom line if you don’t receive the 60–70% first-grade pack-outs. First-grade fruit needs to be a particularly good first-grade in the current marketplace. They are eager to spend extra for the correct product, thus you cannot try to trick them.