Eight years ago citrus growers were abandoning fruit worth millions of dollars due to a strong Australian dollar crippling export markets.
Many were pulling out trees and they were devastated as Mother Nature delivered some of the worst frosts on record. At the same time they were only getting paid 10 cents to 12c a kilogram for fruit to be sold at the supermarket when it cost them 30c/kg to produce at the farm-gate.
Fast forward to today and it's a different story. For the first time, orange growers are seeing record highs at the farm-gate with some fetching as much as $1.20/kg for premium fruit.
Griffith and District Growers' Association secretary Vito Mancini said this was due to Australian growers capitalising on China's love affair with our home-grown premium product.
"We've had two decades of rubbish prices for fruit, frosts, drought, people pulling trees out and a lot of pessimism," Mr Mancini said, who owns Redbelly Citrus and is pictured on our cover.
"Now the industry is shining bright with China, who is acquiring our quality sweet flavorsome fruit and we are seeing record prices particularly for higher quality fruit."
Mr Mancini said Australia needed to continue producing a premium product as there was competition from 117 different countries who were vying for a slice of the Chinese market. He said these included countries like South Africa, Peru, Egypt and soon to be Chile once their free trade agreement was approved.
"Chile is the biggest threat as they are one of the largest players in the market with low production costs," he said.
"So we have to make sure we can supply a consistent product. We can't afford to disappoint China who are prepared to pay good money for our product. China admires our produce for it's sweetness, which is good for us as a lot of our competition has a bland flavour.
"We just need to keep improving on what we are growing to keep the markets we have and look to the future to secure other opportunities like India. If we get India and China buying our premium fruit it will be good for the industry and local economy."
Mr Mancinci said growers had been working with the NSW Department of Primary Industries on research to producing sweet fruit to secure their future. He added another challenge being faced by growers was water restrictions and the high value of water that was pushing up the prices of production to an average of 50c/kg.
"Water prices have gone through the roof, they have risen to $550/megalitre and when you use eight megalitres per hectare, which is around $4000-5000 it can be quite costly especially when it was only costing us $800 two years ago," he said.
Jason Restagno from Lakesview Citrus echoed Mr Mancini's sentiments saying growing a premium quality product for the Chinese market was vital for the industry to continue to thrive.
"There are other markets pushing hard to get into China so we just need to keep our standards up and grow good fruit and so we can keep our name out there as country providing premium fruit," Mr Restagno said.
Nathan Hancock from Citrus Australia said just after the millennium drought it was a tough run for citrus growers with the global financial crisis and the dollar going above parity with the US dollar.
"A lot of oranges in the Riverina were produced for the local market so it's encouraging to see the change that is happening, which is being led by progressive packers who have been exporting for a number of years and are now taking advantage of the demand China has brought to our product," Mr Hancock said.
"China is a proven market for us....but we need to do more than send to the major markets of China, we need to expand to other cities in China that each provide an opportunity to find niche customers who can afford to pay for a high quality product."
In 2018 Australia exported 112,000 tonnes to China (about 40 per cent of Australian exports).
The Riverina produces 180,000 tonnes of fruit each year (30 percent of Australia's production), of those 100,000 tonnes is for the juicing sector.
Oranges for the juice market are fetching between 28-35c/kg compared to 2c/kg in 2012 while fresh eating oranges are seeing prices of between 70c/kg to $1.20/kg.