17/06/2016 - 14:07

Consistent quality key for WA truffles

17/06/2016 - 14:07

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Truffle growers in Manjimup are backing their ability to produce a world-class product in order to maintain a strong share of the international market, amid larger-than-usual crops from Europe this year. 

Consistent quality key for WA truffles
IN WITH A SNIFF: Mel and Gavin Booth with truffle dog, Gabby. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Truffle growers in Manjimup are backing their ability to produce a world-class product in order to maintain a strong share of the international market, amid larger-than-usual crops from Europe this year.

See photo gallery here.

Western Australia accounts for up to 80 per cent of Australia’s total truffle production and is the largest producer of the French black truffle outside of Europe.

The Shire of Manjimup is the dominant growing region in WA, and is home to some of the industry’s biggest players – The Truffle & Wine Co, Manjimup Truffles and Oak Valley Truffles.

Some consolidation of the local industry may also be possible, as Manjimup Truffles is on the market due to the proposed retirment of its owner, Al Blakers.

Like many agricultural businesses, the market for truffles can be volatile; plentiful rain in Italy this year has produced a large world crop.

However, Australian Truffle Traders owner Gavin Booth said this had not affected wholesale prices for the $7 million local market, believing the issue of demand always comes down to quality.

“You’ll probably find that the premium product on an individual kilo-by-kilo basis went up,” he said.

Mr Booth, who runs the business with his wife, Mel, said that instead of a global oversupply pushing prices down as it had for lesser-quality truffles, the state’s reputation for a premium product had helped maintain values paid for WA truffles.

Truffles are grown in dependence on oak and hazelnut trees. The fungus is located up to 30 centimetres below ground and, on average, retails between $2,000 and $3,000 per kilo for the top grade.

Truffle consultant and researcher Anne Mitchell said production in WA was projected to increase from about seven tonnes to 30t per year by 2025.

“There are a lot of plantings that are just coming on now,” Ms Mitchell told Business News.

“Best-case scenario is it’s a 10-year turnaround to commercial success.”

WA truffles are sent to various regional, metropolitan and interstate restaurants, but this only accounts for 10 per cent of the total yield.

The international market is taking the largest bite.

“We’re around the 90 per cent mark of our harvest going to overseas markets, increasingly into the US, UK and into France, even Italy and Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Singapore,” Ms Mitchell said.

“We are counter-seasonal to them; their truffles are ready around December and our truffles are ready now, so we’re not competing with their truffle.”

Mr Booth considers speed of delivery as key to remaining competitive internationally.

“A truffle dog and I can go out at eight in the morning, we can hunt and harvest a truffle and I can put it on a truck at three in the afternoon, it turns up in Perth and at midnight it gets on the red eye ... at 1pm the following lunchtime it’s in Europe,” Mr Booth said. “We actually have a real natural advantage here in the west to market to the world through air freight.”

Truffle & Wine Co first sold its truffles into the emerging Hong Kong market in 2010. It is now the fifth largest market of the company’s export destinations.

Truffle & Wine Co supplies 60 per cent of all Hong Kong’s imported Australian truffles.

Asialink Business director of research and information, Megan Mulia, believes demand for WA produce in Asia is increasingly extending to high-end boutique agrifoods due to the booming middle and upper classes.

The annual Truffle Kerfuffle festival held in Manjimup will celebrate its sixth year and takes place June 24 to 26.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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