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A lychee farm.

Lychees were introduced into Australia more than 150 years ago with the first lychee trees being brought into northern Australia in the 1870s by Chinese immigrants.

The oldest lychee orchard in Australia is near Cairns in tropical Queensland and is run by direct descendants of the first Chinese settlers in this region. Over this time the industry has developed from a “small exotic fruit” industry into a progressive and robust industry.

Industry Status

There are approx. 250 lychee orchards spread throughout the growing regions, ranging from large, medium and small establishments.

Over the past 10 years a number of smaller orchards in North Queensland have been destroyed by cyclones and unpredictable weather events, this has not impacted on the overall annual tonnage as additional plantings were already underway with yields replacing any loses.

The main growing areas in Queensland are the Atherton Tableland and Mareeba, coastal areas down to Rockhampton & Bundaberg, south to Nambour and the Sunshine Coast hinterland. New South Wales has a small number of growers with suitable growing regions extending south to Coffs Harbour.

Season

Depending on climatic conditions, the Australian lychee season commences in mid-October in Far North Queensland and ends in late March in Northern New South Wales. This gives the Australian industry a significant advantage over other suppliers on world markets as no other country can offer such a long line of supply of quality controlled fresh lychee product.

The majority of other lychee producing countries are in the Northern Hemisphere resulting in the Australian’s Southern Hemisphere lychee season being counter seasonal to these production areas.

Industry Value

There are 16 varieties of lychee grown commercially in Australia yielding an annual production of between 2,500 to 3,000 tonnes with local value of production (LVP) of $30 million.

Once new plantings reach maturity yield, it is anticipated that annual production will increase by up to 75% to 5000-5500 tonnes within the next 10 years.

Lychees are imported into Australia from China, Thailand and Vietnam counter seasonally to the Australian production. It is seen as an advantage by the Australian lychee industry, by increasing consumer awareness and exposure to fresh lychee throughout the year.

However, currently the majority of imported lychee from China and Thailand are of poor quality with a short shelf life as the exporting countries are using Cold Treatment as the preferred protocol, taking between 14-21 days for shipments to reach Australia. Air freighted irradiated lychees are arriving from Vietnam which is a better option to Cold Treatment and sea freight.

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.

Industry Structure

The Australian Lychee Growers Association (ALGA) is the national peak industry body representing the Australian lychee industry. ALGA has developed a strategic plan to ensure the sustainable growth of the industry.
As a peak industry 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
• Pre & Post Harvest Research
• Improved Agronomy
• New Lychee Varieties
• Marketing & Promotion

Levy

In 2004 the Lychee industry introduced a levy of 8 cents per kilogram (cpk) to fund the various activities needed to expand the industry. This is divided into 5.5 cpk (70%) for research and development and 2.5 cpk (30%) for the promotion & marketing of lychees.

Consumption and trade 

Australia’s lychee production is sold domestically to fresh fruit markets in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne & Perth along with direct sales to major retail stores outlets.

Export accounts for approximately 25% of the annual production with Australian lychee exported to New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Europe, Middle East, UK, Canada and USA.
Hong Kong remains the main export ‘destination’ port for Australian lychee followed by New Zealand, Canada and USA.

Major Cultivars

There are more than 40 varieties of lychee growing in Australia. However, the industry is largely based on lychee varieties:
• Kwai May Pink
• Tai So
• Fay Zee Siu
• Souey Tung
• Kaimana
• Salathiel
• Wai Chee

Newer varieties now reaching marketable production size are:
• Baitaying
• Chompogo
• Erdon Lee
• Red Ball
• Linsansue
• Sansuelin

Uses

Due to Australia’s premium product and high cost of production, fresh chemical-free lychees are marketed and sold for consumption to domestic markets, retail outlets and into high-value Asian and export markets.
Small sectors of the industry are exploring value adding processes to increase added features to their product.