In a packing shed at Munduberra in Queensland, mandarins roll through a bath of warm wax, emerging bright and shiny and ready for export.
Ironbark Citrus, run by Susan and Allen Jenkin, exports about 6,000 tonnes of the fruit per year, and the total is set to rise as 15,000 juvenile trees reach maturity in the coming years.
The Jenkins got their start in horticulture managing a citrus orchard and packing shed that was owned by the local Ngangganawili community in Western Australia.
Right from the launch of their own business, they’ve been focused on export.
“We had advice from a district agricultural extension officer that exporting was a more assured model, and sure enough these days the domestic market is chockers, so choosing to market offshore was the right choice,” Allen says.
The big picture
Allen says the varieties Ironbark Citrus tends to grow are a little tougher and less loose in the skin to help them travel better.
“It takes about four weeks for them to arrive so we want the best possible shelf life after they get there. Many of the markets we sell to don’t mind seeds but they do look for a sweet, smooth skinned, blemish-free, firm fruit,” he says.
Among the varieties they grow is their own line, Royal Honey Murcott, which was born of a happy accident in their orchards. Allen says they discovered the new variety growing among their trees and found it had some great properties, so they developed it into a new product.
While the couple continues to focus on the development of their business, Susan has launched a passion project to help subsistence farmers in developing countries build sustainable orchard businesses.
Susan is now running four citrus nurseries in Laos in Southeast Asia.
Although they’re busy developing Ironbark Citrus and are aware it will take a long time before the project reaches its goal of lifting the incomes of the local farmers, Susan continues to enrol farmers, look for finance, build markets and watch the crops mature.
“This is about business as aid,” she says. “Not handouts, but economic development.”
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