Smooth skin a solution

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News - Alexandra Laskie news@ru­ral­

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.

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