The Carnarvon Horticulture District is situated on the fertile delta of the Gascoyne River. Despite the fact that the river flows irregularly, and the town is in the middle of 500km of arid landscape, this horticulture district plays an important role in providing fresh fruit and vegetables to the Perth market 1000km away.
Crops are grown on micro drip irrigation using water from below ground aquifers. The Carnarvon Horticulture District is considered the best managed irrigation district in Australia. The dry sub tropical climate makes Carnarvon suitable to grow a wide range of temperate, tropical and subtropical produce across the seasons.
The most recent trend has been to diversify to tree and vine crops such as low-chill stone fruits (peaches, nectarines and plums), red grapefruit and table grapes. These crops take advantage of the sub-tropical climate conditions and can supply Perth with product earlier than the traditional production areas, extending their availability.
The majority of horticulture activity is carried out along the banks of Gascoyne River near Carnarvon on 170 plantations covering an area of 1,500 hectares. The most significant crops in volume and value are bananas, tomatoes, table grapes, capsicum and mango.
There have been a number of horticultural enterprises developed on pastoral leases and these are producing melons, table grapes, citrus and asparagus. There is increasing interest in expanding business activities in these areas to include ecotourism and wildflower production.
Production trends are influenced by seasonal factors such as cyclones, river flows and pests and disease. For example in March 2000, rainfall generated by cyclone Steve caused significant flooding and severe crop damage. Statistics indicate a period of three years to fully recover from the loss of top soil and damage to crops.
- In 2015 the Gascoyne’s horticultural industry had an industry value of approximately $72 million, producing approximately 38,242 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. This is a 30.3% increase in industry value and a 14.9% increase in production quantity from 2005 (Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) 2015).
- The Carnarvon horticultural district cultivates approximately 1,550 hectares of land at one time (of the approximate 2,000 hectares of zoned horticultural area) (Department of Water 2015).
- The highest value commodities in 2015 were tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, capsicums (excluding chillies), melons and grapes (DAFWA 2015).
- The greatest value and quantity increases by commodity between 2005 and 2015 were for cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, other vegetables and melons (DAFWA 2015).
- The Gascoyne’s horticultural sector significantly contributes to Western Australia’s total production value of bananas (99.5%), capsicums (excluding chillies) (62%), mangoes (47.4%), tomatoes (43.5%) and melons (25%) (2011-12) (ABS 2013).