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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 241: IV International Symposium on Vaccinium Culture

THE BLUEBERRY INDUSTRY IN AUSTRALIA: AN OVERVIEW

Author:   K. Clayton-Greene
Abstract:
Blueberries were first introduced into Australia in the early 1950's by Karel Kroon and Ralph Proctor from the Victorian Department of Agriculture. These initial introductions were not successful due to lack of knowledge on production techniques, virus infection and lack of interest.

In the early 1970's David Jones from the Victorian Department of Agriculture imported seed from the U.S. and a selection trial was started. This work was continued by Ridley Bell who eventually made 15 selections and began importing varieties from the U.S. The enthusiasm of both Ridley Bell and a grower, Margaret Tucker, eventually resulted in the formation of the Australian Blueberry Growers Association (ABGA) in the mid 1970's.

Most of the early growers were people from a non-horticultural background and were typically growing blueberries as a hobby. Unfortunately the industry became fragmented in the early 1980's due partially to unrealistic cashflow expectations. This period also saw the emergence of large corporate plantations, that were established primarily to obtain taxation benefits.

Fruit was first marketed through the wholesale markets in 1982/83 and since then production has doubled annually. By the mid 1990's annual production in Australia should be around 4000 tonnes. Last season saw approximately 250 tonnes pass through the domestic wholesale markets and a further 60–70 tonne exported. The figure would have been considerably higher but for heatwave conditions which ruined a considerable amount of fruit.

The industry is now going through a period of consolidation and basically consists of small part-time growers (<5000 plants) and large investment plantations (>40,000 plants). Production is concentrated on the eastern seaboard of Australia in Victoria and New South Wales (Fig. 1), however berries are also produced in Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. The industry has recently reunited into a single national body; The Australian Blueberry Growers Association Ltd., and is employing a full-time promotional/marketing officer this year. Funding is provided by a 5% levey on all punnet sales. Fruit is marketed in trays of either 12 or 9 x 200 punnets, although standardisation on a 12 punnet tray is occurring. It is intended to limit both domestic and export agents to no more than 2 or 3 per state capital city.

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