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Food processing - a Riverina perspective

Phil Sinclair

Research Horticulturist, NSW Agriculture
(Griffith Horticultural Research and Advisory Station)

The Riverina as a centre of agricultural activity

The Riverina is bounded to the south by the Murray River between Swan Hill and the east of Albury, with the boundary extending up between Gundagai and Yass, to the east of Cootamundra, to the north of Temora and Hillston, and back through Balranald to the Murray. That region encompasses a great diversity of agricultural activity, including livestock, crop and horticultural industries and various industries transforming the fresh produce into higher value products. The adjacent tablelands around Adelong/Tumut, the cherry growing area of Young just to the north and the vegetable industries near Cowra, and nearby areas of the Goulburn Valley in Victoria bring further agricultural diversity close to the Riverina. I wish to concentrate on the horticultural industries and will leave it to other speakers to expand on opportunities in the many other animal and crop industries in the Riverina region. In talking about horticulture, I will include viticulture, but will omit ornamental and amenity horticulture.

Tables 1 and 2 show the wide range of horticultural crops currently produced in the Riverina. Letona and Mountain Maid canneries, several citrus juice processors and various other food processing companies are well established and others are newly underway or planned. Thus, the area is important both for fresh horticultural produce and for processed food products.

Research and advisory activities by NSW Agriculture

Research by NSW Agriculture horticulturists in the region in the past 10 years has covered various aspects of horticultural production, as outlined in Table 3. Advisory programs have addressed other topics, including improvement of product quality and market presentation in various fruit and vegetable crops.

Opportunities in horticulture

Opportunities abound to further improve quality and marketing of current products and to develop new products. Research and development for some of the following suggestions may be the province solely of commercial interests and the necessary information may already be available, but in many cases the expertise and resources of CSIRO would be invaluable.

1. General opportunities

(i) Guide marketing and product development through investigation of preferences of consumers in different markets for both fresh and processed products (cf. current CSIRO project in Japan, which has identified significant differences in preferences to our own for products we might wish to market, e.g. that squares of Australian chocolate are too large and not sweet enough for the Japanese palate).

(ii) Maximise energy efficiency in processing (e.g. solar dehydration) and minimise waste disposal (e.g. recycling or alternative uses).

(iii) Optimise storage life and quality of fresh produce for local consumption and to expand export options (e.g. to increase permissible shipping time of fresh asparagus to avoid air freight, as investigated in Victoria).

(iv) Develop new fresh and processed crops (e.g. Asian and Middle Eastern crops) and novel processing techniques, including products incorporating other produce from the region (perhaps "easy-cook" vegetarian meals, with vegetables and rapid-cook rice, barley or lentils, particularly as in the future we can expect more people to choose to be vegetarians).

(v) Chemical-free processing of organic produce.

(vi) Quality assurance to the consumer ("clean" food, with minimum pesticide residues and maximum nutritive value).

(vii) Develop practicable objective methods of defining quality to allow payment based on quality and drive production towards the optimum product (i.e. assist the farm end of a Total Quality Management approach).

2. Specific areas of interest - vegetables and herbs

(i) Optimising quality and production efficiency of dehydrated onions and other vegetables and herbs (a significant new industry likely to proceed in the area; other possibilities include capsicum products, such as chilli powder, paprika and natural red food colouring) and exploration of patented new approaches which remove less water than traditional processes.

(ii) Optimising quality and production efficiency of dried tomatoes (a developing new industry) and development of new tomato products.

(iii) Development of efficient, high quality frozen vegetable products, particularly asparagus (it seems that at last the asparagus harvest can be successfully mechanised, which could significantly reduce the cost of fresh asparagus; N2 freezing of asparagus is successfully used in Taiwan and if product is competitively priced would open new local and export markets); suitability of Asian vegetables for freezing.

(iv) Assistance in production of pickled vegetables, including gherkins (there is a major local producer) and novel products (e.g. rakkyo - Allium chinense - popular in some Asian markets).

(v) Development of processing uses for rockmelons (a major local crop with little current use in processing).

(vi) Production of semi-prepared vegetables (e.g. peeled pumpkin) and research into means of packaging them and extending their shelf life.

(vii) Production of vegetable juices and purees (e.g. carrots and soup bases).

3. Specific areas of interest - fruit, grapes and nuts

(i) Further development work on flavours in citrus concentrates and bulk juice, and uses for by-products such as peels (note that a past venture into pectin production ultimately failed).

(ii) Examination of new varieties of apples for their suitability fresh and for juice, peeling and other processing purposes, including assessment of consumer preferences of fresh and processed products.

(iii) New processed products using prunes, peaches and apricots and improvements to current processing techniques (e.g. prune drying).

(iv) Frozen table grapes and concentrating and modifying juice (patented new processes).

(v) Development of a technique to peel chestnuts so they can be more readily used by the consumer, and development of processed chestnut products (puree for ice-cream, confectionery, etc).

(vi) Development of alternative uses for blueberries (e.g. confectionery).

(vii) Development of new fruit crops primarily for processing (e.g. pickled plums and sour cherries).

(viii) Revival of the quince as a preserved product, perhaps in glass and also as paste, jelly, etc (another personal barrow of mine, as I feel quinces is one fruit which does have appeal as a stewed fruit, although it would seem not enough consumers did so in the past to keep the canneries interested).


The popularity of fresh fruit and vegetables and attitudes towards "clean" and "organic" food require the ability to supply, store and transport high quality fresh food. Food science can help in achieving these goals, in determining just what pleases the consumer most and in bringing new fresh products to the market.

Fresh may well be best - but nonetheless processed foods for convenient home preparation and for the hospitality trade continue to expand in importance. For the export market, processed foods have several advantages over fresh - they are less perishable and therefore more flexible in marketing and transport, they can avoid quarantine requirements and they may contain significant added value. However, traditional approaches to processing are inadequate for the demands of today's market - witness the decline in per capita consumption of traditionally canned stone fruits. Clearly, we need to identify foods which are in demand and to use innovative processing and packaging to attract and retain customers. The opportunities are not just overseas, but also in our own multicultural population and its changing preferences: as Australians choose to eat out and to eat "ethnic".

The existing scale and diversity of horticultural industries and potential for their development and expansion make the Riverina area a major horticultural centre in Australia. With other major crop and livestock industries, the area is a natural focal point for the food industry, where collaboration between food scientists, production researchers and industry should bring ample rewards.


John Beecher (Griffith Producers' Co-op); Rowan Johnstone (MIA Citrus Fruit Marketing Committee); Stuart McGrath-Kerr (Winegrape Marketing Board); Dick Gardner (Vic. DARA); Alan Boys, Ron Gordon, Ron Hutton, Kim Jones, Lou Revelant, John Salvestrin, Dennis Toohey, Richard Withey (NSW Agriculture); Joe Rinaudo (Chestnut Producers of Australia Ltd, per article "Chestnut Challenge", Successful Horticulture 2(3):3-5).

Source of production data

1. Jones, R. and Salvestrin, J. (1987). Farm Budget Handbook - Commercial vegetable production in the Murrumbidgee Valley, 1987.

2. Slack, J.M. (1987). 1986 Horticultural Statistics - Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Murray and Riverina Region, Dept. Agriculture NSW

Table 1. Vegetable Production Statistics - 1987 - Murray and Riverina Region


Vegetable Location Area No. of Grower Tonnes $ Value Average

(ha) Units 1987 yield/ha


Asparagus Lower Murray 40 12 10 - 2.5 tonnes

Tumut 20 2 - - -

Beans Lower Murray 50 20 50,000 N/A


Tumut/Batlow 170 N/A 1,150 $24-$25/t

Broccoli Lower Murray 75 25 525

MIA 40 4 250

Cabbage MIA/Finley 10 4 N/A

Capsicums Gol Gol 120 60 2,000 $1.5 m 18 t/ha

- Field Buronga

Gol Gol 1,400 60 252,000 $1.9 m 180 cases/

glasshouse cases glasshouse

- Glasshouse Buronga standard size (150 m2)

Carrots MIA 1,150 18 40,000 $10 m+ 40

Cauliflowers Jerilderie/MIA 85 8 680 $67,000 8 tonnes/ha

(processing) heads/ha

$360,000 20,000 heads

(fresh) per hectare

Cucumbers Gol Gol 150 58 10,000 $70,000 100 cartons


- Glasshouse Buronga glasshouses

- Field MIA/Lower 65 5 - contracts to processors -


Garlic MIA/Hay 180 60 600 $1.8 m 4

Finley/Lower 6 4 N/A


Lettuce Hay 300 28 500,000 $3 m 2,000

(fresh) cartons

MIA 10 4

Lower Murray 30 6

(seed) Hillston 80 2

Griffith 30 2

Onions Griffith 1,260 44

Jerilderie 280 5 42,000 $8 m 27.5

Lower Murray 20 1 (anticipated)

Parsnips MIA 250 15 7,500 $1.875 m 30

Peas Lower Murray 20 20 30,000 N/A


Tumut/Batlow 331 1778 t sliding scale of payment from

$17.67 - $29.80/t

Potatoes Finley 1,650 (winter)

Berrigan 28 $18.5 m 24 t/ha

(winter) (winter)

Deniliquin 600 (summer) 73,800 28t/ha

total for whole region (summer)

Griffith/ 1,420 15 28,000 $5.16 m as above

Coleambally (winter) (summer)

Narrandera total for whole region

400 (summer)

Lower Murray 20 3

Pumpkins: Lower Murray/ 180 40 3,200 $1.8 m 20 t/ha

Butternuts Finley

Griffith 650 60 10,000

Rockmelons Lower Murray 225 35 4,500 $1.8 m 20 tonnes

Hay/Hillston/ 100 28 2,500 $850,000 25 tonnes


MIA 900 180 17,500 $8 m 20 tonnes

Seedling Barooga large 1 N/A


Nurseries Lower Murray size 1

Swede MIA 100 15 2,000 N/A


Sweet Corn MIA 300 6 N/A N/A

Tumut 506 N/A 6,772 $111.50/tonne

Tomatoes MIA/CIA 10 6 250

(fresh) $275,000 50 t/ha

Lower Murray 5 5 250

(processing) Jerilderie

Finley 640 ha 12 29,000 $2.85 m 45 t/ha

Darlington Point

Watermelons Lower Murray 50 10 2,500 $500,000 50 t/ha

MIA 80

Zucchini Lower Murray 40 60 200,000 cases $1.5 m

Estimated total $ value for Murray and Riverina Region = $70.92 million

Table 2. Area and production of horticultural crops, Murrumbidgee Valley, 1986

(City of Griffith, Shires of Carrathool, Leeton, Murrumbidgee and Narrandera)


Crop Bearing Area Total area Production

(hectares) (hectares) (tonnes)



Navel oranges 989 1,489 36,640

Valencia oranges 3,615 5,101 130,250

Grapefruit 198 204 6,710

Lemons 124 124 4,445

Mandarins 12 21

Tangors 18 19 468

Tangelos 1 2

Total: 4,957 6,960 178,513

Winegrapes 4,328 4,739 85,218


Canning peaches 395 468 11,275

Dessert peaches 3 5 N/A

Canning apricots 121 124 1,700

Japanese plums 55 60 480

European plums 5 8 N/A

Cherries 3 3 N/A

Prunes 362 462 2,595 (dried)

Sugar plums (fresh prunes) 300

Total: 948 1,135 16,350


Apples 29 30 870

Pears 26 26 875

Total: 55 56 1,745

Nuts 5 34 N/A

Miscellaneous 56 57 N/A

Total Plantings: 10,349 12,981

Source: NSWDA

Citrus production totalled 178,513 tonnes in 1986. Valencia oranges produced 130,250 tonnes followed by navel oranges with 36,640 tonnes. The remaining citrus types produced 11,623 tonnes. Winegrapes produced 85,218 tonnes in the 1986-87 season.

Table 3. NSW Agriculture Department - research projects in recent years at Yanco Agricultural Institute and Griffith Horticultural Research and Advisory Station


Asparagus (Sinclair, Neeson)

• varietal evaluation for green asparagus production (fresh market and processing)

• evaluation of a non-selective ("take-all") harvest regime compared to normal, daily selective harvest

• evaluation of off-season production compared to normal spring harvest

• trickle irrigation and nitrogen nutrition by L. Prior at Dareton)

Garlic (Sinclair, Salvestrin, Morris, Hamilton)

• variety/sowing date evaluation

• improved storage - maleic hydrazide, cool storage, insect pests

Onions (Sinclair, Cother, Letham, Salvestrin, Morris, Treverrow)

• varietal/sowing date evaluation, including SS%, sugars and pungency to determine suitability for table, salad and dehydration use

• wireworm and thrips control

• minimisation of black mould (Aspergillus niger)

• bacterial rots (Pseudomonas spp)

Potatoes (Logan, Cother, Dowling)

• varietal evaluation for table and processing purposes

• nitrogen nutrition and irrigation

• seed tuber physiology and bacterial soft rot

• calcium nutrition and susceptibility to soft rot infections

• improved techniques for tuber pathogen identification

Processing tomatoes (Jones, Hermus)

• varietal evaluation

• nitrogen and potassium nutrition and irrigation to maximise yield and soluble solids content


Citrus (Hutton, James)

• clonal evaluation (juice and fresh fruit)

• mechanical harvesting (air blast harvester design and testing, chemical fruit loosening, fruit retrieval)

• high density planting

• improving the efficiency of water and nutrient use

• integrated control of spined citrus bug

Grapes (Sinclair, Freeman)

• soil and irrigation management

Peaches (Hutton, McFadyen)

• varietal evaluation of canning and dessert peaches

• canning peach cropping systems (density, trellising, irrigation management)

• non-chemical pest management in canning peaches (Oriental fruit moth)

Prunes (Ellison, Kable, Milligan, Slack)

• epidemiology of prune rust

• testing of fungicides and development of new rust management strategies

• prediction of prune rust risk based on weather conditions

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