By Mr Joshua Maunder – A third generation grower at Zappala Tropicals based in North Queensland.

Jackfruit, Mangosteen, Rambutan and Durian – these once relatively unknown fruits are now making a name for themselves with increasing consumer demand meaning major supermarkets are now stocking them.

Predominantly grown in northern Australia the Exotic Tropical Fruit Industry encompasses over 60 crops. The industry is going from strength to strength with many growers planning to double or even triple tree plantings over the next five to 10 years.

As the industry continues to grow, it faces a new and complex challenge – the challenge of developing a multi-crop industry body.

A recent Report prepared by Plant Health Australia (PHA), with funding provided through the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, has taken the first steps in investigating the future trajectory of the industry. The Report, which primarily identifies pest and disease risks, also captured the current status of the industry including grower numbers, tree numbers and production values. Whilst the report highlighted a number of positive trends, it also identified challenges faced by growers, including the lack of industry representation for commercial growers.

Of the growers surveyed, over 70 per cent indicated they were supportive of a representative body for commercial growers. Sounds easy enough, but the reality is that developing a representative body that embodies an industry of over 60 crops is no easy task – and whilst the challenge is substantial, the benefits to growers would be worth the blood, sweat and tears. A unified body that represents growers not only provides a voice for the growers; it adds further legitimacy to the industry.

In reality it is likely that an industry body would not be capable of representing all 60 plus crops, at least, not right away. The challenge then is to identify and categories these crops and take forward and represent only those that have the most potential as mainstream commercial crops. It is feasible that as these individual crops gain strength, they themselves will break away and form their own industry bodies however, they need a starting point.

So, what does the future look like for Exotic Tropical Fruit Industry? It looks good. Very good. Once an industry body is established, more detailed work can begin to understand the challenges faced by growers and develop priorities for targeted research and development investment. Investing into the industry to target priority issues will enable further expansion of the industry. The result is a strong, unified and resilient Exotic Tropical Fruit Industry with growers represented by a unified voice.