Pomegranates – new crop for North Queensland

Sept. 8, 2022 | 5 Min read
Pomegranates have potential in FNQ, but more work still needs to be done.

Growing a Mediterranean crop in the tropics was never going to be an easy task, and as the first planted orchards of pomegranates near Mareeba, Queensland enter production, the challenges are becoming apparent.

DAF (Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) estimates more than 10 hectares are currently under production in the Mareeba/Dimbulah area. Several varieties are currently being trialled, including ‘Wonderful’, the dominant variety grown in other Australian production regions. Most of the trees are less than five years old and, unfortunately, growers have had varied levels of success with this crop thus far.

Producing a harvestable yield is proving difficult due to three key factors:

1.    Climate

Harvest is earlier than southern production regions (February/March) and aligns with Mareeba’s peak wet season. Rain causes fruit splitting and fungal diseases to develop on mature fruit.

Split fruit also allows fruit fly to penetrate the otherwise hard outer peel, resulting in unsaleable fruit. The unseasonal wet winter this region is currently experiencing may also promote fungal infection in developing flowers, resulting in poor quality fruit.

2.    Pests and disease

Pressure from insects and diseases is high in this environment, and there are limited registered products available for use in this crop. Unlike Victoria and South Australia, Queensland growers do not have a horticulture exemption award to allow off-label use of registered ag chemicals.

With limited control options, Mareeba growers are most concerned managing black heart rot, anthracnose, root rot, collar rot and mealybugs. In the past two years, plant pathologists in Mareeba have diagnosed anthracnose on pomegranate fruit and observed symptoms of root and collar rot, however the cause was not confirmed. 

3.    Block history & soil type 

Soil type and cropping history influences tree health and establishment success. Some heavier clay soils around Mareeba are prone to waterlogging which stresses trees and can promote soil borne diseases.

It is best practice to always deep rip soil, shift rows, remove all root material from any previous crop and leave fallow for two or more years before replanting. Planting trees onto mounds can also reduce the risk of root rot, particularly in heavier soil or blocks with poor drainage.

The jury is still out for pomegranate growing in North Queensland. However, one Mareeba grower, Mark Taylor (Taylor’s Irresistible Orchards), is leading the way.

Mr Taylor was nominated for the prestigious Charlie Nastasi Horticultural Farmer of the Year Award in 2021 for his diversification in pomegranate production amongst other achievements.

“The value in the crop is there, we just need access to chemicals, especially fungicides, so we can grow a clean piece of fruit. We’re still working out our nutrition too, but we are getting there slowly”, Mr Taylor said.

With declining profits from other mainstream commodities such as avocados, diversification in North Queensland is likely to continue. DAF will continue to support the growing pomegranate industry with diagnostic support and general advice.

Written by Ebony Faichney who worked as a development horticulturist, Department of Agriculture & Fisheries, Horticulture & Forestry Science, Mareeba Qld.

Categories Specialty tree crops Tropical trees