Smooth skin a solution
CANTALOUPE growers are hoping a new smooth-skinned, orange-fleshed melon variety will revive interest in the fruit that is suffering dismal sales four months after it was linked to a deadly listeria outbreak.
The orange Candy melon, developed by Monsanto seed business Seminis, is being grown by north Queensland’s Rapisarda Farms and is stocked at independent supermarkets across the country.
Wholesaler David Weeks, of Lind & Sons, said the listeria bacteria had less chance of surviving on this smooth-skinned fruit.
He said the national listeria outbreak early this year that affected 22 people, killing six, had been catastrophic for the industry.
Government health departments traced the bacteria to New South Wales melon grower Rombola Family Farms.
“Sales are only getting a bit better now,” Mr Weeks said.
“It could take between two and five years for it to fully recover.”
It is hoped the orange Candy, whose flesh and taste resembles that of a rockmelon, will pique consumers’ taste for the melon and provide a lifeline for struggling melon growers across the country.
Because rockmelon is an annual fruit, Produce Marketing Association technology manager Richard Bennett said growers could “rapidly transition to the new variety”.
“I think there’s a big opportunity for growers to get a head start,” Mr Bennett said.
“While there is no substitution for good sanitisation and cleaning of contact surfaces in pack houses, a rockmelon with a smooth skin will give everyone a good start.”
Mr Weeks estimated cut rockmelon sales were down between 45 and 65 per cent, while grower losses were “unquantifiable”.
“It could be between $20 and $50 million. This one-off, isolated incident at a particular farm affected growers across the country,” he said, adding many of the growers whose fruit he sold would not be planting the melon again.
Last week Hort Innovation launched an initiative to help the struggling industry get back on its feet by bolstering food safety procedures at melon farms. across the country.
New South Wales Department of Primary Industries staff will visit every grower and packing shed to review current practices, and a “best practice” guide will be developed and disseminated among growers as part of the assistance package.
DPI lead researcher Sukhvinder Pal Singh said the pathway to recovery depended on rebuilding consumer confidence in the fruit.
“This requires a collaborative and consistent approach underpinned by the supply of safe fruit to consumers,” Dr Singh said.
Staff are now visiting farms in Queensland and Western Australia.
SMOOTH START: Lind & Sons wholesaler David Weeks in front of his Orange Candy stand at Hort Connections 2018.