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Pomegranates

Introduction

The capture of fresh surface water has the potential to open up areas of the `woolbelt' of Western Australia to intensive agricultural industries. In 2005-06 the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) investigated surface run-off in the medium rainfall zone (500­825 mm) of south-western Australia. It aimed to identify areas with sufficient freshwater resources and suitable land for intensive production. The scoping study, based on broad scale modelling and land-soil capability assessment, found that there was some potential to develop large reliable water supplies to support perennial horticulture. Boddington, Boyup Brook, Bridgetown and East Manjimup were identified as areas with the greatest potential. Potential perennial crops have been selected for further investigation based on climatic data, specific crop requirements and future market potential. Further research and on-ground assessment is required to determine if large water supplies can be established and used to develop intensive agriculture enterprises in the region.

New woolbelt opportunities

New woolbelt opportunities

Pomegranates

The study area

The study area in the 500­825 mm rainfall zone of south-western Australia incorporates land from North Bannister and surrounds to Lake Muir south-east of Manjimup (Figure 1).

The product: pomegranate

The pomegranate (Punica granatum L) is an ancient fruit of Middle East origin cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region of Asia, Africa and Europe. The pomegranate is gaining popularity in Australia and the United States in recent times for its unique characteristics and major health benefits. The pomegranate is an attractive small tree, growing 4 to 5 metres high. The fruit consists of many close-packed red grains (arils) and segments that are separated by non-edible white pith. The arils contain a seed surrounded by an edible juicy pulp, which represents 52% of the fruit weight.

Market opportunities

Opportunities exist for the export of pomegranates to the US, Asia, Germany and the UK for the supply of fruit, arils and juice. There is growing evidence that pomegranates contain very powerful agents against cancer, particularly prostate cancer. Increased world consumption is partly being driven by these claims and observations. The perceived health benefits of pomegranate have seen a rapid increase in the demand for the fruit worldwide, especially in the US, where the market has developed from a low base to a $12 million industry since 2003.

Fresh fruit market

Currently there is very little production of pomegranates in Western Australia. The Sydney wholesale fruit market has reportedly achieved $60 to $70 per tray for imported fruit. The pomegranate has a long storage life and can be stored for up to seven months at a temperature of 0°C to 5°C and 80 to 85% relative humidity, without spoiling or shrinking.

Figure 1 Location of study area

Growing conditions

· · · · Mediterranean climate with temperatures up to 38°C Low rainfall in summer and early autumn to avoid fruit splitting Established plants tolerate frosts to -10°C 150 to 200 chilling hours (below 7°C) to break dormancy and start flowering and growing in spring (achievable in areas of the woolbelt) Grow well in variable soils Soil pH between 5.5 and 7.0 Protect from winds to ensure good growth

· · ·

Juice market

There is potential to market the juice on the domestic and export markets. Pomegranates have a high level of polyphenols or anti-oxidants and are now being promoted as a health food, especially for the juice market. Juice can be easily extracted from the separated arils. The juice extracted from each fruit is about 50% of the fruit weight. Modified grape-crushing equipment can be used for juicing. The aril juice is also used as a base to make wine, punches, grenadine for cocktails and gelatine. After juice extraction, the waste material can be used for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Production

Pomegranates are very hardy (frost and drought tolerant) and can be grown in most parts of Australia. The optimal climatic growth conditions are high exposure to sunlight, mild winters (temperatures not below -12°C) and hot dry summers without rain during the last stages of fruit development. Pomegranates generally take three years to establish and produce fruit in the second and third year. Full production can produce up to 20 to 25 tonnes per hectare at maturity. The fruit matures from March to May, about seven months after flowering.

Food accompaniment

The fruit is highly decorative and the arils are used as accompaniment to a variety of dishes. Demand is increasing, particularly in the UK, for the fresh separated pomegranate arils as a complement to dishes.

Threats and limitations

Pomegranates are susceptible to Queensland fruit fly. Fruit can not be exported to countries that are free of fruit fly. Pomegranates will crack when too mature with too much rainfall in autumn, high humidity, poor watering or high winds.

Water requirements

Pomegranates have good drought tolerance and will also withstand short periods of waterlogging. Under low-level sprinklers or drip irrigation, mature plants need about 5 to 8 megalitres (ML) of water per hectare per year, from September to April. Pomegranates have a higher salt tolerance than most fruit crops. For best results, the water quality should be less than 180 millisiemens per metre (mS/m) total soluble salts but plants will tolerate more than 360 mS/m. Irrigation is required for faster establishment and early commencement of production. The key irrigation period starts at flowering and peaks during the fruit development and at maturation where lack of water at this time may cause fruit splitting. Pomegranates can tolerate brackish water without affecting yields.

Varieties

There are many varieties of pomegranates and they vary in quality. Flavours range from very sweet (bland) to very acidic and seeds can be soft, medium or hard. The best quality pomegranates have a good balance of sugars, acidity and soft seeds, which can be consumed with the pulp. The main variety grown in Australia is `Wonderful', with its large well-coloured fruit and good juice content and sugar levels. Further varieties from Turkey have been trialled for intensive production.

Opportunities in the woolbelt

South-western Australia enjoys a Mediterranean climate and growing conditions ideal for pomegranates which are tolerant of frost and mild saline conditions. Pomegranates would suit a range of climatic conditions in the south-west. Juice from pomegranates can be extracted using modified grape-crushing equipment, which is an advantage in areas of the south-west where there are existing vineyards and grape processing plants.

Contact

Tony Portman or Lauren Johnston Department of Agriculture and Food PO Box 1231 Bunbury WA 6231 Tel: (08) 9780 6100 Email: [email protected]

Reference and further reading

Holland D, Bar-Ya'akov I, `The pomegranate: new interest in an ancient fruit', Horticultural Science Focus, vol. 48, no. 3, 2008.

082296-10/08-ID9628

Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, Growing pomegranates in Western Australia, available at http://www.agric.wa.gov.au.

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Pomegranates New woolbelt opportunities

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