Produce Profile: Citrus
According to Citrus Australia, the Riverina cultivates approximately 8,510 hectares of planted citrus and is the largest citrus growing region in Australia, responsible for 30% of Australian citrus (Citrus Australia, 2020).
In the 2021/2022-year, Murrumbidgee Irrigation contributed to the production of 7,289 hectares of Citrus crop.
One of our customers, Frank Battistel, has been growing citrus in the area for 34 years, including Navels and Valencias, the two most popular types of citrus fruits grown in the Riverina Region.
He was able to provide us with some first-hand insight into this produce in the MIA.
What makes citrus fruits so ap-peel-ing?
When discussing the appeal of citrus fruits as a crop for farmers to grow, Frank talked about the benefits of the area’s strong, well-established Citrus growing community, which contains existing support and resources.
“There’s a lot of information about what to do and when to do it and there are a lot of agronomists here that can help you,” he said.
“You’re not on your own and, especially for small farmers, there are many resources already in place in the area that can be utilised when it comes to citrus fruits, including packing houses and juice factories.”
Frank said that it is nice to grow something that is good for people.
"I get a lot of thrill out of growing oranges knowing that they taste nice and look good," he said.
Frank attributes the popularity of citrus among both farmers and the local community to “the vibrant, lush, aesthetically pleasing aspect of citrus farms.”
"Citrus fruits are also very versatile," he pointed out.
"From cakes to fish to salads to juice to a garnish, the recipes and meals they can be used in are endless," he added. Most often citrus fruits are enjoyed on their own as a healthy snack which contains vitamins and filling fibre.
Frank shared some additional fun facts about different types of citrus fruits. These included that Blood Oranges are also known as “Dracula Oranges” in America. They are a very popular produce around Halloween, especially as they can be used to accomplish some very on-theme costumes and snacks!
Frank drew on his own experiences to emphasise how essential irrigation is to cultivating citrus fruits.
“Irrigation is probably the most important part of growing citrus. If you haven’t got water, you don’t grow anything," he said.
Citrus fruits are irrigated using drip irrigation. Frank was one of the first farmers in the MIA to introduce drip irrigation to his citrus farm 30 years ago. He was also one of the first to use moisture monitoring.
These features allowed him to increase control over the maintenance of his crop and gather information to make more informed decisions.
“If I knew what I know now when I first started, I would have been a very smart man,” he mused.
Frank pointed out how productive citrus fruits are in relation to water use.
"It is crucial to look after a tree crop," he said.
This need for care is especially important for tree crops because they are responsible for each year’s produce with citrus trees lasting around fifty years.
“Irrigation can also be used as crop protection for elements like frost,” Frank added.
“It is a combination of a lot of things, including the water being a higher temperature than the temperature of the day which helps raise the temperature around the tree.”
Favourite way to squeeze the day
While there are many options to choose from to pick a favourite citrus-inspired product, Frank said it is hard to beat a whole, fresh, in-season navel orange or an easy-to-peel mandarin.
"As a citrus farmer, it’s easy to take citrus fruits for granted,” he said.
"My wife, Maryann, incorporates citrus fruits into many dishes, such as crepe suzettes and a blood orange salad."
After much deliberation, Frank decided his favourite citrus-inspired product is a “mojito”, a traditional Cuban punch which uses lime to achieve its citrus flavour, as well as for a garnish.
Frank also explained how citrus fruits make one of the best honeys.
"Bees using the nectar from citrus crops create a sweet tasting and smelling honey, in which all the benefits of Vitamin C you get out of citrus goes back into the honey,” he said.
Sculpting citrus’ Riverina reputation
The Griffith Spring Fest is currently on in our region and includes the impressive citrus sculpture display.
With the spotlight this provides on our region’s citrus industry, Frank was proud of the fact we are one of the major citrus industries in Australia.
"While there are other industries, this one is unique to us," he said.
"The attractive qualities of both the Citrus Industry itself and the Citrus Sculptures is great in bringing both tourists and workers to the area," he added.
“It’s a major employer, from packing to picking, it adds a lot of value to the area.”