Resilience and profits of high-density jackfruit

*Across northern Australia, traditional low-density horticultural production systems continue to be highly susceptible to tropical cyclones leading to stagnating sectoral growth and missed economic opportunities.

Under a new project being led by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and supported by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), a range of high-density production and trellis planting systems will be assessed for their cyclone resilience and production capacity and profitability.

Colloquially termed the ‘next generation system’ – high-density orchards provide growers with a production system that can manage cyclone risks whilst simultaneously creating a resilient and prosperous horticulture sector.

Jackfruit, which has exceptional production potential across the majority of northern Australia, will be used as a model tree crop for the project.

Jackfruit is a versatile tree crop that is highly suited to production in northern Australia. It can be consumed immature (green) or fresh (fruit) and is increasingly being embraced as a meat replacement for vegetarian and vegan consumers.

Under the project, trial sites have been established across multiple locations including Carnarvon and Kununurra in Western Australia, Darwin in the Northern Territory, and Bellenden Ker, Atherton, Mutchilba and Giru in Queensland.

The demonstration sites represent the broad range of climatic conditions applicable to northern Australia from the monsoonal tropics in Western Australia and Northern Territory to the wet tropics and dry tropics in Queensland.

Each demonstration site will use a mixture of seedlings, grafted trees, cuttings and marcotts planted at 3m x 7m spacing to evaluate the selected varieties for commercial production. Trees will be planted under both free standing and supported (trellis) arrangements.

Jackfruit

At each site, data on tree growth rates, fertiliser and irrigation inputs, pest and disease issues, canopy development, flowering and harvest dates, yield and fruit aril (flesh) recovery will be collected. In the event of a cyclone, tree survival and impacts will also be documented.

A range of materials will be developed to aid grower adoption of the demonstrated systems.

Overall, the project aims to demonstrate to growers the benefits of the next-gen resilient orchard production system which can be fine-tuned to different tropical species depending on the specific crop and location in which it will be grown.

Specifically, the project will:

·      Investigate opportunities and constraints associated with high-density plantings

·      Demonstrate and assess the validity and suitability of high-density plantings

·      Demonstrate and assess the use of trellis planting systems

·      Demonstrate the benefits of digital software for orchard design

·      Evaluate different production methodologies for planting material

·      Evaluate various jackfruit selections for commercial production

·      Assess input requirements such as fertilisers, chemicals, and irrigation.

CRCNA CEO Anne Stünzner said enabling producers to better manage risk and diversify was important to ensuring their long-term viability and economic prosperity.

“Similarly, de-risking investment decisions by demonstrating what is possible gives producers and investors greater confidence to look to the north when business planning,” she said.

The three-year project is funded through the CRCNA as part of the Australian Government’s CRC Program, being undertaken in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (NT DITT), Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and regional development (DPIRD), Manbulloo Limited, Zappala Tropicals, Northern Territory Farmers Association (NT Farmers) and Growcom. Thanks to the Queensland DAF for supplying the image for this article.

*Written by Natalie Brady, manager, communications at Growcom, Queensland’s peak industry body for horticulture. Contact: nbrady@growcom.com.au

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