The University of Western Australia (UWA) has launched a four-year research mission to make table grapes one of the most valuable fruit crops in Northern Australia.
The research team aims to develop novel practices that will enhance the commercial cropping of table grapes in subtropical and tropical Australia (which is outside their traditional climate range) to boost yields and bring domestic fruit to market months earlier.
The project is jointly funded by the Co-operative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), table grape grower Fruitico, UWA and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).
It will be led by associate professor Michael Considine, who is an ARC Future Fellow at The UWA Institute of Agriculture and School of Molecular Sciences and a research scientist at DPIRD.
The current value of table grape production in Australia is about $750 million generating $620m in export value, which has tripled since 2012.
Hort Innovation Australia rank table grapes as the third largest fresh fruit import commodity and largest fresh fruit export commodity in Australia.
CRCNA chief executive Anne Stnzner said this project could significantly increase the productive potential of tropical table grapes.
"Table grapes are already a high value horticultural crop," Ms Stnzner said.
"Enabling producers to increase yields means potentially more money in their pockets and an increased opportunity to grow a diversified horticultural industry for the north."
Associate Professor Considine said the table grape industry in Northern Australia was currently considered "high risk".
The researchers will develop novel combinations of management practices that are tailored to the climate, in effect 'de-risking' production and increasing investment in growing table grapes in the region.
"If table grape production could be expanded in Northern Australia, the opportunity for import replacements alone is $85 million per annum," he said.
"Additionally, it will increase jobs and social benefits, including Aboriginal co-operatives."
Industry partners DPIRD and Fruitico will work together with UWA to encourage growth of expertise in the viticulture industry.
Associate professor Considine said the major focus was currently Broome, where Fruitico have established vineyards and land ready for expansion, and researchers will soon direct their attention to Carnarvon.
"These two locations will act as case study hubs, from where we will develop and implement knowledge-based management programs for table grapes that enable increased yield in Northern Australia," he said.
"This will ensure new management practices are embedded in industry in real time, accelerating the outcomes and thus rapid adoption by the industry."
The CRCNA is funded as part of the Australian Government's Co-operative Research Program.
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