Shown here are Apricots drying on trays in South Australia’s Riverland

Researchers aim to turn around our declining apricot industry, with 17 new varieties just released to growers.

These varieties have higher sugar levels and yields to provide more reliable cropping and better returns particularly for the dried fruit market. However, the increased sugar levels will also deliver more intensely flavoured fresh apricots, which is hoped to help win back a greater share of the highly competitive snacking market.

Yields are very strong and it’s potentially possible we could see yields of 25 tonnes plus per hectare especially for some of the dried varieties.When you couple that with improvements in drying ratio you’re looking at grossing potentially of $55,000 a hectare off a crop that uses just 6-7 megalitres of water a hectare. This makes apricots relatively water efficient when you consider almonds use an average of 14 megalitres a hectare.

The latest varieties followed 35 years of research and have delivered some of the highest quality apricots yet produced. It presents growers with an opportunity to increase profit margins and access export markets with a premium product.

The breeding focus has improved the fruit sugars to increase the profitability of drying but as a major component of flavours it can benefit both fresh and dried industries.

There’s huge potential for both the fresh and dried industries to grow and the aim is to increase production and develop export markets. The increase in fruit sugars is the foundation of everything and it suits the Asian pallet – to be able to sell large volumes of fresh premium sweet apricots to Asia would be excellent result and even dried fruit as well.

Australia was a globally significant producer of apricots from the 1950s to the 1980s growing about 30,000 tonnes a year with the majority of them sourced from the Riverland SA.

Of this volume about 20 000 tonnes was used for drying and 5000 tonnes for canning and the rest sold mainly as fresh fruit. To highlight the decline, apricot production in the year to June 2017 was just 7163 tonnes with 80 per cent of it sold as fresh produce.

The apricot variety RiverCot9 is among 17 new varieties released to growers for the first time

While South Australia accounted for about half of all apricot plantings and the majority of dried production until the 1980s. The market is now dominated by Victoria, which produced 58 per cent of local apricots in 2017 compared with South Australia’s 23 per cent and Tasmania’s 14 per cent. Growers in South Australia’s Riverland region replaced apricots with wine grape plantings in the 1980s and ’90s and almond trees in more recent years.

The 17 new varieties include five FlavorCot varieties, nine RiverCot and three TastiCot varieties. FlavorCots displayed complex fruity, floral and tropical flavours while the three TastiCot varieties had similar flavour profiles to current fresh market apricots but were much sweeter.

RiverCot apricots are full flavoured but bred with dried fruit in mind. Most of these varieties are suitable for fresh and dried markets – out of the whole 17 there are only about three not suited to the fresh market.

Australia is currently a net importer of fresh and dried apricots. Some fresh apricots are exported, about 400 tonnes a year almost exclusively from Victoria, to markets in the Middle East and Asia. Previous drying varieties such as Story, Moorpark and Hunter yielded about a tonne of dried fruit for every six tonnes of fresh apricots picked.

However, some of the new varieties required only 4.5 tonnes to produce a tonne of dried fruit because of the increased sugar level. So, it’s a massive production lift for the same work. Australian apricots are typically harvested in early summer, from mid-November to mid-January.

The new varieties can be ordered through the licenced nurseries such as Balhannah Nursery in the Adelaide Hills SA or Mossmont Nursery in Griffith NSW.

A signed Non-propagation agreement is required prior to tree delivery.