Over the last few years Australia’s dried fruit market has been struggling to compete on the market with better quality imports selling at cheaper prices. The future of the Australian apricot industry is likely to rest on the success of new varieties designed with improved flavour and ability to grow in the Australian climate. The 17 apricots types were developed by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) at the Loxton Research Centre over 35 years with million of dollars of government and industry funding.
Leader of fruit tree breeding at SARDI Darren Graetz said the program was in the works for so long because it took five to seven years for just one generation of crops to be grown and picked. Previously growers were selecting seeds from overseas countries that were not suited to local climates, hampering the success of the Australian market.
Mr Graetz explained researchers had to grow one variety, continually cross breed it with others, until a variety with the best qualities was produced. The final 17 varieties unveiled have a supposed competitive advantage with cropping reliability, better dry ratio and more diverse taste options.
Mr Graetz said this would mean growers would see better return from their produce which could be grown more reliably and at a better quality.
“The general quality of the product you’re looking at is generally spectacular,” he said.
“It’s highly flavoured and of an impressive quality.
“We’ve done a lot of consumer blind-panel testing. We’ve actually got the scientifically proven numbers showing these things are a lot better tasting and a lot better consumer experienced.”
New apricot varieties on table Photo: The 17 new apricot varieties have been trialled by some local growers, but when they’ll become available on supermarket shelves is uncertain.
Opportunity to open new export market
Mr Graetz said there were high hopes Australian apricot growers could open up new markets for dried apricots in the Middle East.
“There’s a few industries we can actually develop out of this,” he said.
“We haven’t really had an export industry for dried fruit. A lot of this sort of material could go into Middle Eastern-type markets where it’s used as flavourings and things like that.
He said growers had the option to choose a seed variety that would best suit the type of product they want to sell.Stone-fruit grower Jason Size has been trialling the new apricot varieties for more than five years so he can decide whether to recommend them to other growers.Mr Size said he was impressed with the flavour and predictability of the new crops.
“The consumer is always asking and demanding better-eating fruit, and these varieties certainly give that,” he said.
From a marketing point of view, the consumer is certainly going to be wowed by just eating one piece of this fruit
Last-ditch effort for the industry
Whole and halved apricots in a man’s hand Over the last few years Australia’s dried fruit market has been struggling to compete on the market with better quality imports selling at cheaper prices.
Dried Tree Fruits Australia Chairman and grower Kris Werner has trialled all of the new strains of apricots that have been released, and some that haven’t. He has encouraged other growers to do the same, labelling it a last effort to get the dried fruit industry back on track.
“This is last roll of the dice, if this doesn’t work I think the industry’s going to fall in a heap,” Mr Werner said.
But he was confident the new varieties would deliver on promise.
“From what I’ve seen they produce nice, big, meaty fruit; the drying ratio’s nearly half as much as the other varieties that we’ve currently got which then translates to the bottom,” he said.