Implementing innovative technologies to grow, pack and market consistently top- quality fresh citrus to a range of world markets is proving to be a winning tactic for Dandaragan-based company AGRIFresh.
Set up in 2004, the family-owned business has established 320 hectares of orchards across two properties. About 60 per cent of total orchard area is planted to navel oranges and the remainder is made up of mandarins and mangoes.
AGRIFresh operates an on-site, enclosed, 7600 square metre citrus-packing facility that has doubled in capacity in the past 12 months, and further expansion is planned.
This achievement of scale has seen AGRIFresh grow into one of Western Australia’s biggest citrus players in recent years and the company is on-track to meeting its targets of being a fully-integrated production, packing and marketing business supplying key export and domestic markets.
Selling in container loads to premium customers in Asia and the Middle East, AGRIFresh is one of the few exporters of fresh citrus from this State.
Director Daniel Ying said integral to success was a commitment to growing quality produce and using latest technologies to achieve efficiencies in the value chain, while minimising costs.
He said during the peak winter and spring citrus harvesting months, the company ran two packing lines that processed up to 30 tonnes of fruit per hour from the family’s orchards and other local growers.
“We are now introducing advanced robotic packing equipment that can fast-track this process,” he said.
“This will lead to lower per unit costs, higher throughput capacity, longer citrus shelf life, better business margins for the industry and lift our ability to boost export sales.”
AGRIFresh recently received a $194,000 Export Competitiveness Grant (ECG) to help install two Sunkist® Soft Touch® Pattern Packers that can uniformly pack more than 200 cartons of fruit per hour with one machine operator.
The ECG program is an economic development initiative by the WA Government’s Agribusiness Innovation Fund (AIF), managed by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).
It aims to assist WA agrifood companies develop and secure new markets by improving the export competitiveness of the State’s agricultural sector.
The ECGs are provided to drive product development, production and processing innovations, scale and capacity, job creation, regional development, local community growth and higher returns to the WA economy.
Mr Ying said the state-of-the-art robotic technology to be installed by AGRIFresh would complement an existing packer the family purchased in 2016 from the USA and enable them to triple output to three container loads of citrus per day from next season.
He said the robotic packing system handled higher volumes at faster speeds, but at low impact to the fruit by using low vacuum air and soft rubber suction.
“The machine also automatically places cartons in position for packing and then moves these onto a conveyor, using a system like traffic lights to avoid collisions,” he said.
Mr Ying said more efficient processing systems would underpin future export market development as AGRIFresh sought to open new opportunities in Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
“We are already selling into China, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Brunei and Middle East, where customers value the quality, sweetness and freshness of our citrus,” he said.
“We want to continue to grow sales to these customers and secure more overseas markets as WA’s citrus plantings expand.
“We see the best opportunities for our produce are in export destinations, although domestic markets are also developing for quality fresh citrus products.”
Mr Ying said one of the main challenges to exporting citrus from WA included securing access to freight when it was needed.
“It takes 21 days for our citrus to get from the Fremantle port to China and we aim for a maximum 30 days from picking fruit to getting it on to a shelf overseas,” he said.
“Shortening that time, by even three days, through a more efficient supply-chain would be beneficial.”
Mr Ying said overseas customers demanded the highest grade fruit, but AGRIFresh was also developing different markets for other grades of citrus. The aim was to be able to sell every piece of fruit harvested from a tree.
DPIRD AIF acting Director Mark Holland said AGRIFresh was a good example of an innovative and forward-thinking WA business committed to improving the productivity and competitiveness of the State’s horticultural and citrus sectors.
“Its efforts to improve competitiveness helped it develop and expand export markets which will ultimately drive WA’s long-term agribusiness industry’s profitability, sustainability and economic growth,” he said.
For more information about the ECG program, see: https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/export-competitiveness-grants