Late picking better for white grapefruit

RECENT research into the viability of grapefruit crops in Western Australia has opened a potential window of opportunity for the local industry.

Although WA is not a large producer of grapefruit, there is a growing industry in the State’s north for red grapefruit. The white grapefruit, predominantly grown in the southern regions, is considered a little too tart for some tastes, however.

But research by Agriculture WA has found that the white grapefruit could deliver a similar level of sweetness as the northern-grown red grapefruit if it was picked later in the harvest process.

In 2000-01, citrus made up 6 per cent of WA’s fruit exports, making it worth around $2.9 million.

Declining demand for grapefruit has meant it makes up only 2 per cent of the industry – compared with the harvest in the US of about 3,000,000 tonnes, or about 20 per cent of that country’s citrus industry.

But the introduction to Australia’s north of the new varieties of red grapefruit, which contain a higher sugar-to-acid ratio than the traditionally acidic white grapefruit, has the potential to increase demand for the fruit.

The revelation that late-picked white grapefruit can be almost as sweet as the red variety means that WA has the potential to produce sweet grapefruit throughout the year.

According to Agriculture WA researcher Gavin Foord, Kimberley growers could produce sweet grapefruit from February to May, followed by the Carnarvon season until September.

The Gingin/Chittering region produces grapefruit from August to October, while the South West season runs from October to February.

The findings may have opened the way for export production, and there is potential for WA to be a player in the industry, particularly in the Asian region.

According to Agriculture development officer Peter Johnson, timing was an important factor for WA’s entry into the Asian export market.

He said a year-long grapefruit season in WA allowed the State to tap in to the Asian market and fill the window between the US and southern African seasons.

“The quality of fruit in WA is important, particularly the sweetness, because it makes the industry much more sustainable,” Mr Johnson said.

WA had relatively few pests and diseases, he said, and used fewer chemicals on the produce compared with other regions.

And the local grapefruit was of a high quality due to the climate, which allowed for greater sweetness in the fruit.

Substantial numbers of the fruit are required in order to commence an export program, and to this end an extensive red grapefruit plantation program has commenced in the State’s north.

Mr Johnson said markets in South-East Asia was interested only in large export numbers, so a large plantation program was necessary in order to reach a point of “critical mass”.

However, it would be at least three years before substantial numbers of fruit became available, he said.

Mr Johnson was quick to point out that, while the indications for WA and the future for the grapefruit market were promising, projections were currently all “desktop stuff”.

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