Tomatoes a top crop for Gascoyne growers

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Carnarvon's big banana could one day be replaced by a big tomato, which is fast becoming one of the most valuable crops for growers in the Gascoyne.

The latest statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) show horticulture production was worth $78 million in 2010 with nearly 8000 tonnes of tomatoes bringing in $20 million.

Vegetables, including capsicums, pumpkins and zucchini, accounted for 51 per cent of production and were worth about $27 million, while almost 5000 tonnes of bananas were valued at $7.1 million.

DAFWA Carnarvon manager Chris Schelfhout said the amount of vegetables grown had been climbing steadily.

"Carnarvon's warmer winters, coupled with reliable water supplies, have enabled it to become a major source of fresh vegetables when growing areas on the Swan Coastal Plain are quiet due to lower temperatures," Dr Schelfhout said.

The biggest fruit crop grown in the Gascoyne is now table grapes.

"Grapes are mainly harvested in November and December, attracting premium prices," Dr Schelfhout said.

"However, the 2011 production is expected to be lower due to the effects of last summer's floods."

Earlier this year, a report estimated 35 per cent of the banana crop, 40 per cent of grapes and 25 per cent of mangoes and all vegetables were lost because of flooding. The losses were estimated at a minimum of $16 million.

In less than three weeks, Carnarvon vegetable grower Lu Van Nghia is hoping his new season tomatoes will be ripe for the picking and on their way to market in Canning Vale.

Although it's too early to predict how the season, which runs from February to December, will be, growers are hoping it will be better than 2011 when summer flooding wiped out crops.

"The crop is looking not to bad but we won't know until they are picked," Mr Van Nghia said.

With his wife, Tuyet Xuan Vo, and sharefarmers, they planted three varieties of tomatoes in late February, sowing 120,000 seedlings by hand.

Each plant, depending on the weather, has the potential to yield eight to nine kilograms of fruit.

According to Mr Van Nghia, the secret to growing good healthy tomatoes is to make sure fertiliser and chemicals are sprayed on time.

He said the other key ingredient was to prune throughout the growing season so the plant focuses on its fruit.

After harvesting the tomatoes, Mr Van Nghia plans to plant watermelons for the rotation before growing tomatoes again.

_The statistics are from the Carnarvon Plantation Industry Production Statistics 2010, compiled using information from local businesses, transport companies and the Perth Market Authority. It does not cover private sales or produce transported north. _

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