One of the best-managed irrigation districts in Australia
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 subtropical climate makes Carnarvon suitable to grow a wide range of temperate, tropical and subtropical produce across the seasons.
On the supermarket shelves
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 products 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 eco-tourism 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 topsoil and damage to crops.
- In 2017 the Gascoyne’s horticultural industry had an industry value of approximately $97 million, producing approximately 44,532 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. (DPIRD 2017)
- 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 2017 were avocados, mangos, pawpaws, chillies, sweetcorns and grape tomatoes. (DPIRD 2017).
- 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).
The Gascoyne Food Council is a producer-driven group that is passionate about promoting our amazing regional produce, providing awareness that will encourage consumers to seek out and purchase Gascoyne products as preferable to others.
Buy West Eat Best proudly supports the local food and beverage industry in Western Australia. The program is managed by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia. When you see the Buy West Eat Best logo you can be assured that you are buying quality products that have been grown, farmed, fished and processed right here in Western Australia.
Devouring inefficiencies; food waste and the Gascoyne
Innovating 17,000 tonnes of wasted Gascoyne fruit and vegetables
Capitalising on climate, geography and marine bioregions the Gascoyne has emerged as a diverse delicatessen of exceptional food for its discerning customer. Maybe it was a wild harvest Shark Bay scallop or an Exmouth Gulf prawn that you dined on, the Gascoyne is WA’s biggest provider of both. Perhaps it was a mouthwatering steak from one of the 80 pastoral stations that cover 84% of the Gascoyne hinterland, or a better tasting Carnarvon banana (yes, they’ve been blind taste-tested proving their sweetness). But what happens to the food that doesn’t make it to market?
With a view to developing investment opportunities and maximizing profitability, the Gascoyne Development Commission asked this question. Measuring waste levels and investigating methods to reduce these food waste inefficiencies will ultimately drive economic, social and environmental benefits for the region. It is the Commission’s job to apply business case scrutiny to help find an answer.
Coupled with escalating global demand and changes in consumer behaviour, one of the biggest opportunities for the region is the expansion and diversification of the agribusiness sector. Innovating waste inefficiencies can contribute to the return to domestic food processing amid biosecurity risks while capitalising on Australia’s clean/green reputation. For Gascoyne strengthening brand and provenance awareness, diversifying industry, creating employment opportunities and eradicating fruit flies are also critical motivators.
Value-add to food waste
A collaborative approach to pursuing a value-add Gascoyne food waste approach through special manufacturing, marketing or processing has not only identified and engaged stakeholders but resulted in research and development partnerships. This approach is creating a transferable framework to enable further product development and two identified ‘investment ready’ value-added products from Gascoyne Horticulture food waste.
Across tomato, mango, banana, capsicum, honeydew melon and zucchini growers in Carnarvon, the annual farm yield is 44,000t. Presently, 31,119t (73%) is harvested and 21,092t (66%) of harvest makes it to fresh sales. The remaining Carnarvon Horticulture food waste takes the form of;
- unharvested product (8,310t or 19% of annual farm yield, of which 70% is edible)
- the packing shed discards (4,610t or 12% of annual farm yield, of which 82% is edible)
- 2nd grade (~60% of seconds) valued under breakeven price and therefore not sold at market (3,850t or 14.5% of annual farm yield, of which 100% is edible)
The Value Add Research Initiative, a partnership between the Commission and Curtin University, has taken a nuanced approach considering Gascoyne’s distance to market, comparatively low production rates and limited existing infrastructure. Taking advantage of grower, industry and community local knowledge weighted against market research and testing indicates a cooperative management model will reduce costs and increase R&D and capital funding opportunities.
Simple value-add factory trials
Factory trials of a simple value add model (identified as having the greatest potential to form a viable business case) addressed issues around processing and packaging, quality, shelf-life, the addition of preservatives, potential problems and associated recovery. The process has also highlighted the potential challenge of a cooperative/collaborative management structure, investment risk, previous unsuccessful business plans, inherent costs and the unpredictability of horticulture waste due to seasonality.
A pulp, juice, pre-prepared and/or frozen simple value-add to consistent supplies of tomatoes, melons and bananas target horticulture with the highest production volumes, largest waste streams and longest seasons. Market analysis has concentrated on demand, pricing and quantity while considering grower cost and appropriate levels of returns.
Horticulture Processing Facility
Data collected through these pre-feasibility studies and factory trials has been transferred to Horticulture Processing options, ideally undertaken at a specialised facility complete with modular, multi-sector farm equipment. Ultimately a Carnarvon Horticulture Processing Facility would be energy efficient, comply with food and health regulations and streamline incoming and outgoing transport access. It would be constructed to be flexible, adaptable and capable of expansion if and when supply increases.
Resultant business case confidence levels of 90%, with 62% throughput, for both a base case (not including unharvested farm yield) and high-yield case (including unharvested farm yield) have been modelled on conservative assumptions. Continued stakeholder and community engagement and feedback is necessary. The Gascoyne Development Commission looks forward to furthering engaging key stakeholders and local community members for feedback which will be used to finalise the model to establish a pilot processing facility in Carnarvon.
Reports and publications
- Summary of Results – Collaborative Product Development Research Initiative by Dr Howieson
- Prefeasibility Report – Gascoyne Horticulture Processing by Ewan Colquhoun
- Concept Design – Carnarvon Pilot Horticultural Processing Facility by Herve Calmy
- Value-adding to Carnarvon Horticultural Produce: Ideation, Innovation, Market
- Feasibility Study for Multi-Food Processing Plant