A Queensland finger lime grower says Australia is in danger of losing the fledgling native citrus industry to overseas competitors unless fruit fly export rules are changed.
- Finger limes are a citrus native to Queensland’s scenic rim
- The fruit can only exported frozen because of fruit fly rules
- Producer Ian Douglas wants to rule changed so Australia can own the market before it is developed overseas
- Ian Douglas, who runs The Lime Caviar company at Rathdowney in south-west Queensland, said the finger lime industry could be a repeat of the macadamia nut story, where Hawaii got the jump on local growers and developed the Australian native nut as its own.
- Mr Douglas said finger limes were now so popular with chefs that the US, South Africa, Thailand and Italy were already planting finger lime orchards.
He said that while he cannot keep up with domestic and international demand for the fruit, which sell for $40 a kilo, the small Australian industry would not grow unless producers could export their fruit fresh. Presently, any fruit grown in fruit fly areas must be exported frozen.
“Because it’s a citrus, those countries believe [the] fruit fly must be associated with finger limes, which is not true,” Mr Douglas said.
“So we can’t send fresh finger limes to Japan and other potentially huge markets like China, India, the US and New Zealand.
“We have to overcome that problem, otherwise we will have our finger limes grown offshore.”
Margie and Ian Douglas hold opened finger limes at their orchard in Rathdowney in Queensland. Photo: Margie and Ian Douglas at their orchard in south-west Queensland. Mr Douglas said he made a submission to the Federal Department of Agriculture four years ago, arguing for fruit fly restrictions to be lifted so he could export fresh fruit to New Zealand. “I was told after they considered our submission we ticked all the boxes, but the real problem was the industry was too small, and we should come back in 10 or so years and maybe then [when we were bigger] they could solve the problem for us,” he said. “That’s simply not good enough. “The Government wants start-up industries to succeed, and this is a genuine start-up industry. The Government must help us.” Finger limes not an industry priority: Agriculture Department Mr Douglas has found an ally in his local federal MP Scott Buchholz. When he visited the Douglas’s orchard to discuss the issue last month, Mr Buchholz was unaware the fruit was native to the Scenic Rim region, and that the Douglas family — who are the biggest producers in the country — were exporting the fruit around the world. When he tasted finger limes for the first time, he said he could see why some of the world’s top chefs — like Renee Redzeppi from Noma in Denmark, and Ben Shewry from Attica in Melbourne — were such fans of the native citrus. “It’s like little lime angels dancing on your tongue,” Mr Buchholz said. Mr Buchholz said he would do what he could in Canberra to help the 50 finger lime farmers in Queensland and Northern New South Wales expand their small industry. Finger lime “caviar” floats in a champagne glass Photo: Finger lime caviar is becoming increasingly popular in fine dining. “When we talk about as a Government, making a transition from the resources sector to a more innovative economy, I see no better example on such a fledgling industry than work through the hurdles,” he said.
“We have only got a four-year advantage on the international market. That time can disappear very quickly so we need outcomes in place within 18 months.” The Federal Department of Agriculture told Landline the issue was one for industry, not government. “The department considers advice from the horticulture sector when establishing priorities for market access negotiations with trading partners,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Horticulture Innovation Australia has the responsibility for providing advice to the department on the collective priorities for the sector. “To date, industry has not made a recommendation that finger lime access to New Zealand be prioritised.”
Mr Douglas concedes the industry is small, but says the potential for growth is huge.
“I am currently in discussions with an importer in Hong Kong who says he could sell the whole of our production into Shanghai if we can obtain entry into China. Just think of what the Chinese will do when they get a few trees,” he said. The couple plans to plant another 1,000 trees, which would take their orchard to 4,500 trees producing 10 tonnes a year. Bushes in Ian and Margie Douglas’ finger lime orchard at Rathdowney, Queensland. Photo: Ian and Margie Douglas want to expand their orchard to 4,500 trees. If the industry was granted an exemption and could export the fruit fresh, Mr Douglas said he would buy another farm, double plantings, and triple his staff. In an area with unemployment levels above the national average, he said the finger lime business could easily move beyond its cottage industry status if it was let off the leash. “Every piece of fruit we’ve picked has been sold, and next year, I imagine the same thing would happen,” he said. “But the demand and the prices we could obtain if the fruit fly barriers are removed would be incredible.” The 80-year-old former QC, who was an industrial lawyer in Melbourne before “retiring” to Queensland, says he’s not giving up. “We’re only one grower out of 50, and most of those would have operations smaller than ours, but potentially it is a very good industry for this country, and it’s my ambition before we can’t do it any more to make sure it is working properly,” he said.
Source: ABC Net