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.
Industry Status The lychee industry is one of Australia’s leading sunrise industries. It is expected to contribute $1,730 million to the Australian economy between 2002 and 2011 at the current rates of growth.
Currently there are over 250 lychee growers whose farms extend down the east coast of Australia for almost 2,500 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.
Industry Value The Australian lychee industry produces around 6,000 tonnes with a farm gate value of $30 million and a gross sale value to the economy of $90 million. 35% of this production was 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.
Industry Structure 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
ALGA also organises a biannual national lychee conference.
The Lychee industry has 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.
The current long-term decline of the sugar industry and the demise of tobacco growing are forcing farmers to diversify into other crops. Lychees appear to be one of the significant new crops in sugarcane areas from Mossman to Ingham, the Proserpine-Mackay districts and also in the Childers-Bundaberg districts.
Significant plantings are also occuring in central Queensland including the areas west of Rockhampton. Similar increases in plantings are occurring on Atherton Tablelands as the end of the tobacco production has forced farmers to venture into new crops.
Consumption and trade The bulk of Australia’s lychee production is sold locally with between 20% and 35 % of the lychee crop exported.
Most of the crop is consumed in two markets, Sydney and Melbourne. The Australian market is very small and is oversupplied at 4000 tonnes for the four month season.
Australian Lychees are currently exported to Hong Kong, Singapore, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, United Arab Emirates and Canada. No pre-shipment treatments are required for these destinations.
All Australian lychees are marketed as fresh fruit because the lychee industry uses airfreight and a cool chain to provide fresh, best quality ‘chemical free’ lychees to our markets.
Major Cultivars There are more than 40 cultivars of lychee growing in Australia. However, the industry is largely based on seven cultivars:
- Bosworth No 3 (Kwai May Pink)
- Tai So
- Fei Zi Xiao
- 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.
Uses The Australian lychee industry is currently based on supplying fresh fruit. Some sectors of the industry are beginning to explore processing as a means of value adding lower grades.