Case Study: Ironbark Citrus

Ironbark Citrus relies on expertise and relationships for ASEAN success

Ironbark Citrus

Queensland-based mandarin producer Ironbark Citrus has focused on ASEAN and Asian markets since its inception. In 1990 - its first year of operation - the business planted an orchard of mandarin varieties suitable for export and preferred by the Indonesian market.

The business now exports mandarins to a range of countries in ASEAN and beyond, including Thailand and Malaysia. 'We dabbled briefly in the domestic market and then decided to focus completely on export,' Chief Executive Officer, Susan Jenkin says. 'So we then made it our business to become expert in the countries and markets we operate in.

'We work to establish enduring relationships with export customers,' she adds. 'We're always looking for new markets in ASEAN and while we use Australian-based exporters for the logistics, payments and other services, we insist on visiting our export customers to discuss their experiences.

'In addition, we've spent a lot of time identifying where our fruit is going to make sure we're not competing with ourselves in the same market with different exporters. These days, we've narrowed it down to a couple of exporters.'

Investing in market development is another key to success for Ironbark Citrus. The company has established a business in Laos - called Ironbark Lao - that works with farmers in remote areas to establish a citrus industry in Vilabouly District, Savannakhet Province.

Ironbark Lao operates a citrus nursery to provide trees to participating farmers, delivers horticultural extension services and packs fruit for export as trees come into production. Ironbark Lao also provides a revolving loan fund to help farmers come on board.

Ironbark Citrus operates three farms in Queensland, two of which are in production with the third expected to start production in 2018. These farms host 75,000 producing mandarin trees, with a further 30,000 to come in to full production by 2020-2021.

In 2017, the company exported 1,500 tonnes of mandarins into ASEAN countries. Its largest market was Thailand, followed by the Philippines and Indonesia. Smaller markets included Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Ironbark Citrus states its aim as providing, growing and packaging consistent, high quality citrus and to become the preferred supplier of citrus to exporters, importers and supermarkets across Asia and the Middle East. The business has 16 full time employees complemented by 120 seasonal workers during harvest periods.

Ironbark Citrus has benefited from government assistance over the past two years, including through participation in the Export Market Development Grants program. Senior executives have also been part of a trade mission to Indonesia, and have worked closely with Austrade in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. In Thailand, the business has participated in a joint program with Trade and Investment Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture.

Free trade agreements have also played a significant role in helping Ironbark Citrus grow in ASEAN. Exports of Australian citrus to Thailand have grown considerably since the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) came into force on 1 January 2005.

Jenkin sees ASEAN as integral to Ironbark Citrus' expansion in coming decades. 'ASEAN provides the core of our customer base,' she says. 'The rise of the middle class in a number of ASEAN countries will allow huge growth over the next 10 to 20 years.'