Holy guacamole, avocados are go

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

WA's avocado industry is on the brink of a boom, with growers predicting the best season on record.

Perfect conditions mean next season WA will pick nearly double the avocados harvested in its record 2010/2011 season.

Back then the State yielded 1.8 million trays of avocados, but next season it's set to be more like 3.5 million trays worth $80 to $100 million wholesale.

That's about 80 million fruit from this State alone and more than enough guacamole to go around.

New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are also likely to have about two million trays of the fruit, meaning it's the first time southern Australia can meet 100 per cent of summer demand without the need for imports from New Zealand.

While it's a huge opportunity for the State's growers, Pemberton grower Russell Delroy said there's also huge risk.

Harvest of his 60,000 avocado trees has wound up, but the fruit for the next season set last spring, taking about 15 months to ripen.

Like other WA growers, warm spring temperatures, particularly warm nights, gave Russell a bumper fruit set.

Bees were brought in to boost pollination and after harvesting just 400 tonnes this season, he predicts next harvest will yield eight times that at 3000 tonnes.

But big crops also mean big investments.

"We're spending millions of dollars upgrading infrastructure in terms of packing equipment, handling equipment and people resources to be able to handle that crop," Russell said.

"We want to see a return on that investment.'

The danger is that retailers will still bring in cheaper imports from New Zealand, which has labour costs almost half that of WA.

Russell said that it only took an oversupply of 20 per cent to drop prices by 60 per cent

"We've got the potential for one of our best years and the potential for one of our worst years," he said.

"If imports come in and retailers put imports on the shelf we could well end up having one of our worst years."

To combat the effects of cheaper imports, the avocado industry has recently instigated labelling all Australian avocadoes with a sticker featuring a kangaroo.

"National supermarket chains like Coles and Woolworths will dictate the outcome for WA avocado growers depending on whether they stock Australian fruit or cheap imports," Russell said. "We're asking retailers and consumers to support Australian farmers and buy Australian product."

·For more on Russell Delroy's Pemberton orchard, which is Australia's largest tamarillo and WA's biggest kiwi fruit producer, see next week's Horticulture section

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