The benefits of SA’s Fruit Fly Free Status

Richie Roberts, Costa Group

$140 million

SA citrus exports have doubled in 5 years to $140 million.

For Australia’s largest citrus grower, Costa, South Australia’s Fruit Fly Free status has enabled it to grow more than just delicious fruit.

It has enabled the company to grow their bottom line through competitive advantage in the export market.

Based in the Riverland district in South Australia, Costa operates seven citrus farms and three pack houses, farming a total of 25 citrus varieties on over 2,000 hectares of irrigated horticulture.

Attracting premium export prices with quality fruit

The company produces about 50 per cent of South Australia’s citrus, and about 15 per cent of the Australian citrus crop.

In total, 90 per cent of the citrus they produce is exported, said Richie Roberts, Divisional Manager - Citrus Category at Costa.

“It’s an export orientated business.

“We supply the Northern Hemisphere in their summer, so we don’t compete with their local production.”

The climate in the Riverland - warm summers and cold winters - means citrus produced in the region is able to achieve a pleasing external colour, and good internal sugar:acid ratio.

“We’re competing with other Southern Hemisphere producers - South America and South Africa - but we compete on the quality of our fruit, and its colour and taste, not price.

“Because of the quality and excellent reputation of Australian citrus, we’re able to attract a premium price,” he said.

But it’s not just the quality of the fruit that makes Costa’s citrus desirable in the export market.

Growing in the Riverland's Pest Free Area makes exporting produce faster and cheaper

South Australia’s Riverland region is the only major Australian citrus growing region formally recognised as a Pest Free Area for fruit fly.

This means Costa can ship directly to lucrative export markets including Japan, USA and New Zealand, without the need for disinfestation treatments for fruit fly, which reduces costs and delays for producers and exporters across the supply chain.

South Australia’s citrus industry was able to export $72 million worth of fruit in 2018–19 to these countries, and save an estimated $4.2 million a year because cold and chemical treatments were not needed.

“The fruit fly free status of the Riverland has been a big advantage for us,” said Richie.

“If we didn't have it, it would cost us $2 to $3 more per carton to send out fruit to Japan, or to go to the other markets that recognise our fruit fly free status.

“Plus, when you cold treat citrus, there’s the risk of chilling damage on fruit.

“Because of this, customers in Japan and New Zealand in particular are demanding South Australian fruit fly free citrus, as opposed to citrus from other states in Australia.”

Maintaining the Pest Free Area

PIRSA supports the maintenance and ongoing status of the Riverland Pest Free Area by maintaining and inspecting more than 1000 fruit fly traps in the region.

The Pest Free Area is surrounded by quarantine bins with signage highlighting quarantine restrictions to travellers entering the region.

PIRSA also operates the Riverland’s Yamba Quarantine Station, as well as random roadblocks, stopping and checking all traveller and commercial vehicles for produce where fruit fly may live.