THE global economic uncertainty and high Australian dollar are failing to suppress the appetite for South Australia’s premium produce.
With the dollar hovering above parity, key sectors of the state’s agriculture continue to grow, feeding demand from China, Japan, Hong Kong, the UK and the US.
Latest State Government figures show that meat exports have grown 28 per cent to $706 million and seafood exports by 11 per cent to $272m over the past two years.
And the Government says that agricultural exports across the board are on track to crack the magical $20bn barrier by 2020.
Whether it’s tuna plucked from nutrient rich southern waters, red wine pressed from grapes grown in ancient vineyards and beef pampered on lush rolling limestone hills, SA’s produce is ending up in high-end restaurants across the globe.
Food SA chief executive Catherine Barnett said that the state’s premium produce was putting the state on the global map.
“What SA is very well known for is producing high-quality premium food and that reputation is starting to get well known,” Ms Barnett said.
“People are prepared to pay for quality and it makes us feel pretty proud when that quality comes from our backyard.”
She said the state’s growing cheese industry was one to watch.
“Our cheese industry is relatively young compared to the European cheese industry but we have got some absolutely magnificent quality cheeses that are coming out of SA,” she said.
The state’s well-known southern bluefin tuna industry, which exports between $200 and $300 million each year, is tipped to grow even further.
Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association chief executive Brian Jeffriess said the industry was undergoing a “major expansion”, with the quota set to jump from 4600 to 7000 tonnes in 2017.
“We expect to almost double the current size of the industry,” Mr Jeffriess said.
He said local producers including Beerenberg and San Remo had already helped to put SA on the map.
Almost one in five South Australian jobs result directly from the agribusiness sector.
Agriculture Minister Gail Gago said the state was well placed to meet growing international demand for premium food and wine.
“We need to show the world just how good our food and wines really are,” she said.
“This in turn will drive growth and create vibrant local food industries and ensure regional growth and prosperity.”
Southern bluefish tuna, Port Lincoln
THERE was a time when Port Lincoln tuna fishermen worked with a line and pole and sent their catch direct to the cannery.
But once the Japanese sampled southern bluefin tuna and some canny locals developed tuna farms, the Eyre Peninsula town firmly established itself as a tuna-producing hub.
Once the tuna have doubled in weight in tuna pens in the untainted waters of Boston Bay and beyond, they are harvested and within minutes are resting on ice, ready to be packed and sent direct to Tokyo fish markets where each can attract around $600.
Australian Tuna Association’s Brian Jeffriess said it was a price worth paying.
“At the top end of the market, you will always find people able and willing to pay,” he said. “The flow-on benefit to the Port Lincoln community and the state is huge because most things are sourced locally.”
Now a valued $200 million industry for the state, directly and indirectly employing 2800 people, Mr Jeffriess said the farms were now providing a spin-off attraction for the local tourism industry, with visitors flocking to swim with the tuna.
Torbreck Vintners, Marananga
IF you’re looking for a table wine sure to impress the most discerning of wine connoisseurs, then The Laird is unmatched – in price at least.
At about $700 a bottle, the shiraz is considered Australia’s most expensive, eclipsing the $625 recommended retail price for the latest Penfold’s Grange vintage.
It is made from grapes planted in the 1950s and grown at Malcolm Seppelt’s vineyard at Marananga, north-east of Gawler.
Torbreck Vintners founder Dave Powell says the “quite reserved and elegant” drop is worth every cent.
“It spends three years in the best oak money can buy and two years in the bottle before we release it,” he said.
“You’re spending that amount of money on some of the finest wines in the world and I think Australia has some of the finest wines in the world. Why shouldn’t we charge world-class prices for world-class wines?”
About 300 bottles of the 2006 vintage and 17 bottles of the larger 1.5 litre-size 2005 vintage are still available at the cellar door. But if wine lovers aren’t quick enough to snap up a bottle, the 2008 vintage will be released next year.
Mayura wagyu beef, Millicent
FOR meat lovers, the Mayura station wagyu steak is a prime cut above the rest.
A 300g sirloin of the marbled meat, cut from black-haired bovines fattened up in the state’s South-East is selling for a whopping $380 – or about $25 a mouthful – in the Melbourne Crown Casino’s exclusive Japanese restaurant, Koko.
The prized cows raised on the Limestone Coast, near Millicent, are fed chocolate to produce a fine grain steak that melts in your mouth.
Mayura’s Scott de Bruin said his wagyu cattle are produced following the time honoured Japanese tradition of slow growth and low stress.
“Mayura Station produces a very rare form of full-blood Wagyu beef which are predisposed to producing beef with very high levels of intramuscular fat known as marbling,” he said.
“Our production is focused on delivering the highest quality eating experience for our clients utilising feeding regimes including chocolate in the later stages of production.”
With half his annual output of 600 head of cattle shipped to Hong Kong, the US, Singapore and Dubai, Mr du Bruin said he struggles to supply the long line of premium Sydney and Melbourne restaurants queuing up to serve his award-winning steaks.
Green-lipped abalone, Elliston
THE pearly shell from which this prized meat is plucked is far prettier than the green fringed delicacy inside, but its dubious appearance hasn’t stopped abalone from becoming a sign of wealth and position in China.
“It’s a status symbol for them,” Australian Bight Abalone’s group project manager Verne Lindsay says.
“If they can be seen eating abalone, they are seen to be wealthy.
“When Chinese couples get married, they are given gifts of whole abalone as a symbol of affluence and good fortune.”
Twenty-four hours after three-year-old abalone is harvested from the the rugged coastline near Elliston on the Eyre Peninsula, it can be served interstate for $300kg and even more in China, Mr Lindsay says. “We put up with lots of rough weather and we are very exposed but the water is extremely clean and provides a stable water temperature to allow good growth free of disease.”
Mr Lindsay says ABA hopes to produce 100 tonnes in the next 12 months, to cash in on China’s voracious appetite.
Woodside Cheese Wrights, Woodside
PRODUCING an award-winning cheese was a labour of love for Woodside Cheese Wrights manager Kris Lloyd.
Determined to create a robust cheese, she spent 18 months perfecting the recipe for her semi-hard goat milk cheese, Figaro.
It is made in small batches completely by hand in Ms Lloyd’s Myrtle Bank home and retails for $100kg.
It is best accompanied with fresh seasonal fruit and a glass of red.
“It’s a washed rind cheese and we allow the surface to develop and wrap it in vine leaves,” says Ms Lloyd, who is the head cheesemaker.
“It is turned weekly to make sure there’s an even distribution of moisture loss and we mature it for anywhere between three and 18 months.
“People absolutely love it.”
Figaro has won a range of Australian and international awards, including a gold medal at this year’s Royal Queensland Food and Wine Show and a silver medal at the 2009 World Cheese Awards.
The next batch will be made in October and not released until after Christmas.