HOME GROWN: Lychee farm in our own backyard
LESS THAN three years ago, Paul and Krystal Caton were on a cattle property in Marlborough.
Looking for a rural enterprise of their own, they came across a Lychee orchard at South Yaamba.
This is the second story into The Morning Bulletin new Home Grown series, showcasing CQ's produce and the faces behind the farm gates.
Last week, Tim and Jenna Keogh were feautured with their avocado and mango farm at Kabra.
It has been a smooth transition into horticulture from cattle for the parents of three young children.
"When we found out our offer was accepted, we just drove up and down the coast visiting other farms from Bundaberg to Mareeba door knocking," Paul said.
"Lychee is a good industry because there are a lot of people willing to help."
The farm is located 30kms from Rockhampton on 16ha.
There are over 250 lychee growers in Australia from Cooktown in Far North Queensland to Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.
There are some small lychee growers around Yeppoon and the coast, but the Caton's farm is the largest in the area with the closest of similar scale in Ingham.
The farm has around 5000 trees, some of which are 15-20 years old.
The Catons have planted 300 new trees in their time there.
There are more than 40 varieties of lychees grown in Australia and the Catons grow seven including Bosworth 3, Wai Chee, Salathiel, Fay Zee Sui, Marcot, Souey Tung and the most popular, Kwai May Pink.
Kwai May Pink is described at the "bread and butter crop" of the lychee varieties.
"Every year you prune them and get fruit back on them," Krystal said.
"They are designed for the Australian climate," Paul said.
Offering several varieties opens the market up, increasing the length of the season and choice for the consumers.
"All have slight different flavours, size or seed size," Krystal said.
The lychee fruit originated from South China in approximately 1700BC.
The first trees were brought to Australia in the 1870s by Chinese immigrants.
Lychees are a type of berry with red bumpy skin which is peeled away to reveal a white, juicy, translucent ball of flesh with a brown seed inside.
The flesh is eaten and is sweet with a texture similar to a grape.
The Australian lychee industry produces around 3000 tonnes per annum with a farm gate value of $20 million.
It is estimated that between 20 and 35 per cent of this produce is exported.
The Catons send their lychees to the international and domestic market from Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne and overseas to Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
Paul said the best premium for the fruit is just before Christmas and during the during the Chinese New Year.
The lychees are picked in December and January.
At the moment, the Caton's trees are flowering but the orchard farm was struck by a frost this winter which has caused some complications.
"So we have flowering a little bit all over the place, some a little more progressed and some are just developing, there were hit more with the frost," Krystal said.
"If the flower is young, it will burn them off," Paul said.
This will affect how the season turns out this summer.
Paul said prices were hard to predict, with higher yields lowering prices.
"Apart from the trees that were hit with the frost, the farm is looking quite good in flowering at the moment but anything can change in farming," Krystal said.
"Because it is spread out from top to bottom, if Mareeba is hit with a cyclone, that can push our price up because they are high in demand," Paul said.