15/06/2004 - 22:00

Investor partners seek rewards

15/06/2004 - 22:00

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The Dobson family and investment manager Rewards Group are relatively new to the Ord River irrigation area but together they are well on the way to having a big impact.

Investor partners seek rewards

 

The Dobson family and investment manager Rewards Group are relatively new to the Ord River irrigation area but together they are well on the way to having a big impact.

By the end of this year they will have planted 375 hectares of mango and grapefruit orchards, and next year they could plant a further 175ha.

This would make them easily the largest growers of tropical fruit in the Ord, with annual output worth $35 million, more than doubling the total value of horticulture production in the area.

Rewards Group managing director and 2004  WA Business News 40under40 winner, Andrew Radomiljac, said they were working to a four-year plan to gain critical mass, so they could become high-volume suppliers to the major retail chains.

They are also looking to the next stage of development, which involves establishing a central packing and processing facility.

Stewart Dobson, a director of the family-owned orchard manager Kimberley Produce, said the scale of their operation put them in stark contrast to many other Ord growers on small “lifestyle” lots.

Mr Dobson was one of the last people able to buy a new release of land in stage 1 of the Ord.

He moved from Victoria in 1995, and since then his family has grown bananas, paw paw, mangoes, grapefruit, melons, sweet corn and Tahitian limes, which serves to illustrate the diverse agricultural potential of the Ord.

Mr Dobson said he teamed up with Rewards Group to accelerate the development of his land.

Dr Radomiljac is a former resident of Kununurra and so is well aware of the area’s potential.

Rewards has chosen to grow red flesh grapefruit, which is sweeter and considered more palatable than the well-known white flesh variety.

Dr Radomiljac said Rewards would be Australia’s largest grower of red flesh grapefruit, which was becoming more popular as awareness grew.

In Texas, more than 90 per cent of grapefruit trees are now of red flesh varieties, while in Florida about 50 per cent are red flesh.

Dr Radomiljac said the warm climate in the Ord meant the grapefruit was sweeter compared to red flesh grapefruit grown in southern Western Australia.

Another advantage of the Ord is that the grapefruit matures in February and March, when there is little supply from other regions.

Similarly, Ord mangoes mature early and can therefore be sold at a time of short supply and high prices.

Dr Radomiljac said Ord mangoes were also of higher quality and their storage life longer.

“The supermarkets recognise we have a premium product and they are prepared to pay for it,” he told WA Business News.

The long storage life of Ord mangoes has enabled Kimberley Produce to successfully send trial shipments to Europe.  The shipments are part of an ongoing program to build market awareness.

Mr Dobson is hoping to export via the port of Darwin, which would cut both the land transport and sea transport distances.

However, the viability of Darwin will depend on the frequency of shipping, which will be determined by the volume of freight using the new rail link to Adelaide.

A central packing plant will enable Kimberley Produce and other horticultural producers in the Ord to lift their efficiency.

A processing plant will take that a step further, enabling growers to gain some value from reject fruit via juicing, pulping or drying.

Dr Radomiljac said these facilities would be needed in about four years, once volumes increased, and could be developed either by the industry collectively or by Rewards alone.

Kimberley Primary Industries Association executive officer David McKerrell said he wanted to engage a consultant to conduct a feasibility study on a central facility but was stymied by a lack of State Government funding.

Mark Beyer flew to Kununurra as a guest of Rewards Group.

 

ORD PRODUCTION

 

Main crops

  • Sugar: $17.4 million.
  • Melons: $15.4 million.
  • Pumpkins: $3.2 million.
  • Mangoes: $3.1 million.
  • Sorghum: $2.7 million.
  • Bananas: $1.8 million

Value 2003 production: $51.5m

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