Research and development projects have commenced at the Australian almond industry’s Centre of Excellence, with the new facility set to ensure the sector remains a world leader.

Speaking at the centre’s official opening in Loxton late last week, South Australian agriculture minister Leon Bignell said almonds were the largest and fastest growing horticultural sector in Australia, with the industry heavily geared towards exports.

“This year, the almond industry became Australia’s most valuable single horticultural crop with a record industry gross production value of A$960m (US$691m),” Bignell said. “Almond exports account for nearly 75 per cent of sales with major markets in Europe, India, the Middle East, New Zealand and Asia.”

The South Australian Government has committed A$4m (US$2.8m) over four years to look into new almond rootstocks, varieties, tree architecture and crop management and harvesting techniques.

The state government is also establishing a new experimental orchard site to enable semi-commercial scale evaluation of new almond varieties and new growing systems developed by the University of Adelaide.

“The South Australian government fought hard to have the national centre here in this state,” Bignell explained. “Right now the Riverland is booming with almond developments thanks to a massive funding boost from the A$240m (US$172m) South Australian River Murray Sustainability Irrigation Industry Improvement Programme.”

Almond Board of Australia’s (ABA) chief executive Ross Skinner said the world-class facility would allow the industry to continue capitalising on a period of sustained growth and make it even more globally competitive.

“The ABA is pleased to be part of the refurbished and rejuvenated Loxton Research Centre, which from now on will be the home for the Australian almond industry and the major experimental orchard facility for our research and innovation,” Skinner explained.