Central Australian horticulture promoted at conference

Sarah Tsai, Horticulturist Alice Springs

DPIR horticulturist Sarah Tsai with her poster on horticulture in central Australia

A spotlight was shone on central Australian horticulture at the recent Developing Northern Australia conference in Alice Springs and the Food Futures Conference in Darwin. Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) horticulturist Sarah Tsai has been busy researching and promoting horticultural opportunities for the red centre.

DPIR presented a poster on Horticulture in Central Australia at both the Food Futures and the Developing Northern Australia conferences, summarising the huge horticulture potential in Central Australia. The work listed areas of interest, existing commercial production with room to expand, and crops with great potential in the centre that are still waiting to be developed.

“I have always enjoyed talking to people that did not know much about the Northern Territory (NT), letting them know that we have a horticulture industry in central Australia. People just can’t believe it! Sometimes even people who have lived in Alice Springs for a long time find that surprising”.

The poster is an extension on the prospectus we rolled out last year: “Investing in the Horticultural Growth of Central Australia”. The prospectus was created with input from several departments within the Northern Territory Government as a ‘one stop shop’ information booklet on horticultural investment opportunities in the centre. The prospectus covers the horticulture opportunities from Tennant Creek down to the South Australia-NT border.

A recent ABC news article asked the question “Why doesn’t the tropical north produce more agriculturally?” I resonate with what Greg Owens (CEO of NT Farmers Association) said: developing a horticulture industry takes time. The NT horticulture industry was worth almost nothing in 1981 and now it is worth almost a quarter of a billion dollars, in just 37 years. At these conferences a lot of emphasis is placed on developing the mango, melon and Asian vegetable industries for the NT in the north. It is important to remind people that down here in the centre we have semi-arid climatic conditions suitable for other crops, as well as room for the established industries to expand (such as table grapes, dates, and bushfoods).

Current horticultural industries in central Australia were established and supported through ongoing work that the department conducted in the 1980s and 1990s at AZRI and Ti Tree Research Station. However as new varieties of crops are evolving, new and novel crops which have not been grown or trialled in the centre are in demand. A lot of work is still needed to de-risk potential crops for the region and to facilitate expansion.

The demands from consumers are changing, market opportunities are shifting. We live in a global era where markets are dynamic and competitive, how can we better utilise all of the different climate zones the NT covers, to diversify our horticulture industry and to increase the variety of produce the NT has the potential to offer? That is what we want to explore.

The Developing Northern Australiaconference and the Food Futures conferences were held on the 18-19 June and the 2-4 July respectively.

Last updated: 18 October 2018