The first lychee trees were brought to northern Australia in the 1870s by Chinese immigrants. These immigrants came to Australian in search of gold, however, many became market gardeners and were responsible for most of the fresh fruit and vegetables in the gold mining towns in Far Northern Queensland. Two important Australian fruit industries, lychees and mandarins, owe their origins to these pioneers.
The oldest lychee orchard in Australia is near Cairns in tropical Queensland and is run by George Wah Day, a direct descendant of first Chinese settlers in this region. Mr Wah Day’s father started the orchard in the 1930s with Tai So trees that he brought from China.
The lychee industry is one of Australia’s leading sunrise industries. There are over 250 lychee growers whose farms extend down the east coast of Australia for almost 2500 kilometres from Cooktown in Far North Queensland to Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.
The season starts in mid October in Far North Queensland and ends in late March in Northern New South Wales.
The Australian lychee industry produces around 3,000 tonnes per annum with a farm gate value of $20 million. It is estimated that between 20% and 35% of this production is exported.
Being a labour intensive industry, it currently provides thousands of full time and causal jobs, which greatly benefit regional and rural communities. This income and employment is critical to these communities due to the current long term decline of many rural and regional industries.
The Australian Lychee Growers Association (ALGA) is the national peak body representing the Australian lychee industry. ALGA has developed a strategic plan to ensure the sustainable growth of the industry. As a peak body it works with government, industry, non government organisations and consumers to advance the interests of the Australian lychee industry.
Currently ALGA is working with these groups on several projects. These are:
- Market Access
- Post Harvest Research
- Improved Agronomy
- New Lychee Varieties
The Lychee industry introduced a levy of 8 cents a kilogram to fund the various activities needed to expand the industry. This is divided into 75% for research and development and 25% for the promotion of lychees.
Lychees are a significant new crop from Mossman to Ingham, the Proserpine-Mackay districts and also in the Childers-Bundaberg districts. Significant plantings are also occuring in central Queensland including areas west of Rockhampton. Similar increases in plantings are occurring on the Atherton Tablelands as farmers venture into new crops.
Consumption and trade
The bulk of Australia’s lychee production is sold locally. Between 20% and 35% is exported. Most of the crop is consumed in two markets, Sydney and Melbourne.
There are more than 40 varieties of lychee growing in Australia. However, the industry is largely based on seven varieties:
- Kwai May Pink
- Tai So
- Fay Zee Siu
- Souey Tung
- Wai Chee.
The Australian lychee industry is currently hybridising and trialing new varieties that will further extend the production season and provide superior lychee varieties.
The Australian lychee industry is currently based on supplying fresh fruit. Some sectors of the industry are exploring processing as a means of value adding.