Citrus comes back to Barooga in a big way

Trees galore: The Barooga site is one of the largest new horticultural developments in Australia. Photo by Carly Marriott

Standing on top of Glen’s Hill overlooking the Mulwala canal near Barooga, you can see as far south as Mt Major near Dookie, where Andrew Mann attended agricultural college as a sheep farmer’s son.

Mr Mann is now overseeing one of the biggest citrus developments currently under way in Australia, after spending 20 or so years working as an agribusiness banker.

The parcel of land at Glen’s Hill totals 420ha of citrus and is a combination of three traditional broadacre family farms that have been purchased by his employer, US capital fund Agricultural Capital (AC).

Under development: Andrew Mann on the horticulture site. Photo by Sohie Baldwin

Mr Mann’s career move to general manager (Australian operations) has not only created a change of scenery for him, this development is also changing the farming landscape.

Citrus is by no means new to the region, with a long tradition of orange orchards being grown along the banks of the Murray River dating back to the 1940s.

Geoff Brentnall’s family operated the 100ha Murray Park orchard and went on to establish Brentwood Juices in the 1970s when orange growers experienced low demand for their fruit.

Mr Brentnall, now retired and at home tending to his crop of protea flowers, recalled “the local Barooga growers farmed along the country to the east of town and would then deliver produce to the Cobram Co-operative packing shed to be transported to the Melbourne markets”.

Orange grove in the making: A total of 330,000 trees are on the Barooga site. Photo by Carly Marriott

In a way, AC has recreated this supply chain but on a much larger, more intensive scale.

This spring AC planted 330,000 trees at the Glen’s Hill property that will be ready to harvest in 2025.

AC also owns Mowbray Farm, a 210ha established citrus orchard at Berrigan producing Sumo Citrus, Navel oranges, lemons and mandarins and delivering to its Legacy Packing facility in Cobram.

The citrus development at Glen’s Hill on Back Barooga Rd has been a work in progress, with five spreader trucks busily spreading 7 to 8 tonne/ha of cow manure sourced from the nearby Peechelba feedlot to improve soil fertility.

Contractors have formed beds for planting, excavators have laid irrigation infrastructure and a team of electricians have had the job of wiring pumps so that 180km of underground pipe can water the newly planted trees.

The development includes 180ha of Sumo Citrus, 60ha of Navel oranges and 180ha of Afourer mandarins.

Growing: Citrus is coming back to Barooga. Photo by Carly Marriott

The location’s attractiveness includes its proximity to Mulwala Canal, the soil type, the fact it is counter-seasonal to the Northern Hemisphere and that the climate is comparable to California.

As in California, water is highly sought after in the southern Riverina, meaning the demand for land and water is on the rise from family and corporate farmers alike.

“We need to get ahead of the curve and set up this operation because of its location above the Barmah Choke and with access to packing and logistics to the Melbourne market,” Mr Mann said.

The trees require 7-8Ml/ha using pulse irrigation and are watered year-round. With a 240Ml dam and a 50Ml sump, AC can take 50Ml/day from the canal using a combination of permanent and temporary water through Murray Irrigation Limited.

“The greatest threat to the business is labour and water, just like everyone else,” Mr Mann said.

The business relies on a community of fruit pickers and workers who have made Cobram their home because there is year-round work for them.

“It creates a community here, with stone fruit, citrus, pruning, a real cycle of work,” Mr Mann said.

“We also employ staff who are responsible for agronomic and irrigation duties who are local to the area and able to pursue training and upskilling on our farms.”

The jewel in the AC crown is the Sumo Citrus brand, that is grown throughout the Riverina, Mildura and Riverland.

The business is focused on selling a premium fruit to the domestic and export market, with fruit sold to 30 countries worldwide.

AC has 7284ha of citrus in the ground in the United States and 647ha in Australia, and according to Mr Mann the company is looking to develop further in this region and elsewhere.

“There’s space for corporates, but they won’t take over the world,” he said.