No one is recommending that the sugar industry be abolished in favour of rare tropical fruits in our wet area of North Queensland. The recent downturn in the sugar industry has, however, taught us that we can no longer rely wholly and solely on just one aspect of primary production. With these thoughts in mind approximately three years ago, we embarked on an experimental project with exotic fruits to try to supplement our income for the future. A ten-acre block of our land adjacent to Harvey Creek was selected. This land had not been producing payable crops of sugar cane. The land is a sandy clay loam and very well-drained. Good drainage is essential as the wet season could be our fruit harvesting period. This area was planted with all the different varieties and types of fruit trees which were available and is now our 'Pilot Farm'. We have now commenced plantings of other areas using the experience obtained from our Pilot Farm. The experiences and knowledge gained could be helpful to anyone contemplating such a move, and any information required is readily available from the writer or his family.
TROPICAL FRUITS THAT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED
Rambutan, Durian, Abiu, Purple Mangosteen, Marang, Pomolo, Jak Fruit and Sapodilla etc. Most of these fruits need the humid, tropical conditions which exist on the coastal strip from Tully north. These conditions render these fruits reasonably safe against overproduction, thus ensuring a reliable market in the future. Overseas travelling and immigration has helped to have these exotic tropical fruits recognised and to all appearances, the supply may never exceed the demand. With International Airports now on our doorstep, there is the potential to export to the Asian Countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
No doubt with the sugar industry at its lowest ebb, everyone is interested in a fruit they could plant today and harvest tomorrow. Unfortunately this is not possible, but with proper care and attention trees are fruiting much sooner than had been thought possible. Essentially a good, healthy, vigorous tree should be planted. The money saved initially in purchasing a cheap, inferior tree is lost many times over. I recommend that at least three or four different types and varieties of these fruits should be grown. The earlier-producing trees should be grown in conjunction with later-producing ones, and the different varieties of each fruit could spread the fruiting period over a longer time. This has the distinct advantage that harvesting can be carried out by fewer people, and there would be a lesser glut of fruit on the market at any one period.
Seedling Abiu have fruited in good quantities eighteen months from planting. The fruit differs in shape and size and the amount of seeds per fruit, but basically the flavour does not differ to any great extent. Grafted trees that have fruited in the cooler areas show some reluctance to fruit heavily on the coastal strip. Some selections have been made from Abius which have fruited well on the coast. These varieties will not be available in large quantities for a few years yet. It is recommended, for the present, to plant seedling Abius. You may end up with an exceptionally good fruit while waiting for grafted varieties.
In my opinion, only grafted Rambutans should be planted. Limited amounts of fruit have been obtained from some grafted trees within two years. It could be expected that at four years, reasonable marketing of fruit would be possible. Many varieties of Rambutans are available, so some advice should be sought on which variety to plant.
Seedling Marangs have set fruit in two years, but allow at least four years for any reasonable quantity to be produced. Severe cold winters could affect Marangs as well as Durian and Purple Mangosteens even on the coast, but it would be expected that losses would not be significant.
Durians are a longer-term producer. Some varieties could produce within four years while other varieties may take eight years to fruit. The demand for this fruit is very great in southern capitals. I believe that Durian is being imported from Singapore to satisfy the needs of our Asian population. Good varieties of Durian fetch high prices even in the Asian countries where they are plentiful. Numerous varieties of Durian are now becoming available for planting.
Purple Mangosteens also come into the category of about eight years to produce. Grafting has been used in an endeavour to shorten this period. Success has been very mixed. Some trees have produced a few fruit while others have rejected the graft. This fruit is recognised as the 'Queen of Fruits' and it appears there could be a good export market for it to Japan.
Four or five acres of fruit trees, properly cared for and producing could return a substantial income. The future trend for the sugar industry clearly indicates incomes will be down and even at its best will never reach the high prices obtained in the early 1980s. Machines and harvesting groups will become larger, making small blocks and corners on larger block unsuitable for sugar cane growing. These areas should be considered for fruit trees.
Irrigation has to be considered even in our wet tropical area. The writer acknowledges that growers will find it difficult at the moment to finance an expensive irrigation plant. Experience has shown that eighty trees, or approximately one acre, can be watered in thirty minutes using a six-hundred gallon tank on a trailer with a 1½-inch pump powered by a five-horsepower motor. The pump is used both for filling and pumping it out. This pumping unit was originally used for fire fighting when burning cane and is now used for both purposes. Heavy mulching around the trees helps in retaining moisture, thus cutting irrigation costs. Mulching also helps in controlling weed growth in the early stages and improves soil fertility.
Once a fruit project is started, one's lifestyle changes and the JOY of seeing trees grow and produce is very rewarding. Eventually it could help growers cope financially with the problems that exist in the sugar industry.
DATE: July 1985
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