Sweet pickings in full swing

Rebecca TurnerThe West Australian

The WA citrus season has kicked off and the third commercial harvest has just begun at Moora Citrus, one of WA's biggest citrus plantations 200km north of Perth.

A significant volume of mandarins and other citrus will be picked across the orchard by the time harvesting of all trees ends in November.

Since planning began in the late 1990s and planting started in 2005, the orchard has developed through strategic and staged development phases and now has a total of 170,100 trees.

Covering 212ha, the orchard consists of three varieties of mandarins, seven varieties of Navel oranges and one seedless Midknight orange.

The diversity of citrus varieties enables fruit to be picked a maximum number of months in the year, generally from May to November.

The planting of the orchard finished in 2013, with all trees expected to be at full production in the next five to six years.

Moora Citrus orchard manager Shane Kay said they intended to supply a similar tonnage into the Perth market as last season with all citrus being sold to retailers through local wholesalers.

He said the large supermarket chains were volume buyers of Moora Citrus produce last year; however independent grocery stores and local wholesalers were also significant supporters and maintaining relationships with all buyers was vital.

Developing export markets was also on Moora Citrus's radar; initial trials have been positive and in 2015, the intention is to begin developing an export program that will become an integral part of the future of the orchard.

While inquiries were already coming in from countries such as China and Japan, higher production was needed to meet this market demand.

"There is a lot of potential for developing exports," Mr Kay said.

"Production on farm is coming in at a good time."

Mr Kay said as the biggest producer of citrus in the State at the moment, Moora Citrus was aware of its obligation to look after the WA citrus industry.

"We do not want to over supply the Perth market, Moora Citrus is a part of the WA citrus industry, we are aware of our size and will manage our supply and impact on the WA market which will include investing in export opportunities," he said.

When the idea for Moora Citrus was first suggested, Perth imported 60 per cent of its citrus produce.

A variety of new promotional materials have been developed to educate consumers about seasonality, local produce and the superfood qualities of citrus.

From its original conceptual phase, Moora Citrus prides itself on using world-class infrastructure and layout for the orchard.

"The original group of owners continue to invest in the project, they are very passionate about the business and very keen to see is succeed," Mr Kay said.

The project has created great employment opportunities for people living in the Shire of Moora with most permanent staff living in the area.

During picking, a combination of backpackers and Pacific Islanders are used through the Federal Seasonal Worker Program to complete harvesting the orchard.

"We use a seasonal harvest team with some workers coming back for their third time this year," Mr Kay said.

"While we do employ locals for seasonal or casual work there is not enough available."

Mr Kay said all fruit was picked by hand for the fresh fruit market.

"All fruit needs sighting and handling carefully for this market, pickers use gloves and picking bags with fruit placed into bins and trucked for packing," he said.

Packing is carried out at three separate packing sheds in Dandaragan, Bindoon and Karragullen.

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