Chinese Jujube

24.05.17

The Chinese Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba Mill.) is one of the most important fruit crops in China and has been consumed as a food and used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

The jujube is a medium-sized deciduous tree that reaches a height of 7–10 metres. The jujube fruit is oval shape, reminiscent of a date and is also known as a Chinese date or red date. Jujube fruits are eaten fresh, dried or processed as ‘Chinese dates’ that are used in confectionery, breads, cake, candy, compote and jam.

Overview

The jujube is widely grown in China and neighbouring countries with cultivation records dating back more than 3,000 years. However, its history in Australia is short with successful cultivation taking place since around the year 2000. Jujube is considered a new horticultural crop in Western Australia and plantings of jujube trees have increased since 2010 as awareness of the crop increases. Western Australia had an estimated 30 commercial jujube growers managing 10,000 trees on 20 hectares and a grower in Victoria began selling commercially in 2012. Production in Western Australia was spread between the Perth Hills, the South West region and some Wheatbelt and northern areas not usually linked to orchards.

Jujubes have also been successfully grown in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. The jujube’s drought and salinity tolerance, easy management and multiple uses indicate potential for a niche crop for many areas of Australia.

As at 2014, demand for the fruit was outweighing supply in the Perth market. Fruit was retailing through Asian grocery stores in the Perth metropolitan area, as well as weekend farmers’ markets. Government and industry participants in Western Australia are examining jujube’s export potential to Asia.

The main factor limiting industry growth is the availability of trees, with local suppliers being unable to keep up with demand from potential growers.

The WA Jujube Growers Association Inc was established in December 2013.

Facts and figures

  • Chinese Jujube, also known as Chinese dates, is a new horticultural industry in Australia being cultivated in Australia since about 2000
  • The only commercial jujube orchards were in Western Australia and one in Mildura, Victoria
  • Jujube’s drought and salinity tolerance, easy management and multiple uses indicates potential for a niche crop for many areas of Australia
  • Trees can be hard to obtain as propagators cannot keep up with demand for new plantings
  • It has been estimated that it may take new industry entrants seven years to earn a profit from jujube plantings

Production status

Chinese Jujube trees have grown successfully in Australia for over 15 years and the industry is growing steadily. The tree is well suited to Australia’s climate and soil types, growing in a range of areas. Western Australia is currently Australia’s leading jujube producing state with an estimated 10,000 trees planted on 20ha.

There are approximately 30 commercial jujube growers in the Perth Hills, the Wheatbelt and the South West region. Plantings of jujube trees have increased in Western Australia since 2010 as awareness of the crop increases.

Jujubes have also been successfully grown in the eastern states of Australia in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

Uses

Chinese jujube fruits are eaten fresh, dried or processed as ‘Chinese dates’ which have been used in confectionery, breads, cake, candy, compote and jam.

The fruit is very nutritious with potassium, phosphorus, calcium and manganese being the major mineral components, as well as iron, sodium, zinc and copper. The jujube is a rich source of vitamins C and B-complex.

The vitamin C content is higher than other fruits that are well known for high content such as oranges and the antioxidant capacity of fresh jujube is also relatively high compared with other vegetables and fruits.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

The Chinese jujube is grown commercially only in Western Australia, in the Perth Hills, South West region and some Wheatbelt and northern areas not usually linked to orchards. There is one commercial grower in Mildura, Victoria and jujubes have also grown successfully in New South Wales and South Australia.

Soil type

Chinese Jujube grows well on a variety of soils. The tree prefers sandy loams or lighter soils but will grow on heavier clays. The jujube tree can tolerate saline, alkaline or slightly acidic soils but grows best in soil with pH 4.5–8.4.

Climate

The Chinese Jujube grows best in climates with a long, hot, dry summer after adequate rain early in the season and cool temperatures during its dormancy. In Western Australia, jujubes are currently grown in areas where rainfall ranges from around 200–1,000mm annually.

The jujube has a lower water requirement and higher salt tolerance than most fruit crops. The tree adapts to drought conditions and not only survives but also produces reasonable yield under severe drought. Under natural conditions the tree forms a deep and substantial taproot making it drought tolerant.

Fruit set of jujubes requires average daily temperatures above 20°C. Fruit development requires average daily temperatures over 24–25°C.

Varieties

There are close to 1,000 varieties of Chinese Jujube recorded in China, classified by end use, including fresh, dried, candied, multipurpose and ornamental.

In Western Australia there are currently 15 recognised varieties grown:

  • Li
  • Chico
  • Suimen
  • Thornless
  • Ta-Jan
  • Jin-si-lin
  • Lang
  • Silverhill
  • Sherwood
  • Shanxi-Li
  • Redlands
  • Si-Hong
  • Don Polenski
  • GA 866
  • Admiral Wilkes

The main rootstock used in Western Australia is Jin-si-lin, which is grown in sucker beds, before being grafted with the chosen variety.

The varieties Chico and Li are the most favoured fruit in the market.

Planting and crop management

In Western Australia, the number of trees planted per hectare ranges from around 550-1,000, with conventional jujube orchards planted at 4−5m x 5−6m spacings.

Trees can be purchased from speciality providers and transplanting trees in the field is most successful at bud burst. Note that demand for trees outstrips supply and therefore potential industry entrants may need to pre-order stock.

Prior to planting, pits of 0.6−1m3 are dug at appropriate distances depending on the chosen orchard density. The pits are filled with original soil mixed with manure, superphosphate and urea.

Jujube trees can be damaged by winds so windbreaks are advised if the site is susceptible to strong prevailing winds. Netting is recommended to protect jujube orchards from birds, rabbits and kangaroos.

In Western Australia, most growers use poultry manure to fertilise their trees, however it should be used with caution to reduce risk of fly breeding and nutrient leaching. Some growers also add NPK fertiliser (nitrogen–phosphorus–potassium) and superphosphate. Lime should be added in areas with a lower pH soil or if there is an existing calcium deficiency.

The key times for nutrition are:

  • before bud burst (September)
  • early flowering (October/November)
  • rapid growth stage of young fruit (December)
  • immediately after fruit harvest (April/May).

Manure can be applied during the dormant period (late autumn or early spring) and fertiliser may be foliar applied. Fertiliser can be applied 5–6 times a year along with sprays of fungicides, pesticides and growth regulators.

Jujube trees can survive with very little water, however, strategic irrigation can improve fruit set, reduce fruit drop and improve fruit size, yield and quality.

The key times for irrigation are:

  • before bud burst (September)
  • early flowering (October/November)
  • rapid growth stage of young fruit (December)
  • immediately after fruit harvest (April/May).

Soil characteristics will influence the type and timing of an irrigation program. Trickle and drip irrigation are efficient, economical systems that are well suited to jujube production. The trees will require approximately 3–5ML/ha over the summer months.

Pruning to train the tree into shape is carried out during the first 3−5 years of growth. In general, about 6-8 primary branches are kept within a height of 3–5m and well spaced in all directions. Jujube needs to be pruned annually to enable the tree to bear a full crop. Detailed information on training and pruning jujube trees is available in the Best Practice Guide contained within the report Development of the Chinese jujube industry in Australia (RIRDC 2014).

Jujube blooms in early summer and the fruit ripens in late summer/autumn but flowering time can vary at different locations and depends on cultivar and climate. The trees flower from November to December in Western Australia, with fruit starting to ripen at the end of February. The time for fruit to mature varies among varieties from 60-145 days. Fruit development is slightly longer in warmer climates and shorter in cooler climates.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

No significant diseases have been found in Chinese Jujube in Western Australia.

Pests of jujube trees include rabbits, kangaroos and birds but fencing or netting the trees can provide protection.

The jujube is susceptible to Mediterranean fruit fly so a baiting program may be required. No other insect pests has presented as a problem for jujube production.

Detailed information on managing pests in jujubes is available in the Best Practice Guide contained within the report Development of the Chinese jujube industry in Australia (RIRDC 2014).

Infrastructure Requirements

The infrastructure on most established horticultural enterprises will suit jujube production. This includes irrigation, as well as cleaning, sorting, packing and refrigeration infrastructure.

Basic infrastructure and operating equipment may include:

  • Trees
  • Irrigation infrastructure and controller
  • Tractor
  • Orchard sprayer
  • Herbicide sprayer
  • Slasher
  • Forklift
  • Bulk bins & bin trailers
  • Trellising
  • Ladders
  • Pruning equipment
  • Netting (shade, hail and bird)
  • Fertigation tank and injector
  • Machinery shed
  • Grading and packing machinery
  • Coolrooms, CA, forced air or hydro cooling

If growing jujube in high wind areas, windbreaks may also need to be built or planted. It is also recommended that netting be used to protect fruit from not only birds but rabbits and kangaroos as well.

Harvesting & Processing

In Western Australia, jujube fruit matures from February to April. Maturation can be divided into three phases:

  1. white mature: the fruit is near full size and shape; the skin of the fruit is thin and changes from green to greenish white colour
  2. crisp mature: the fruit is half to fully red; the skin becomes thicker, harder and easily separated from the flesh which becomes crisp, juicy and sweet and contains more sugar and acid
  3. fully mature: sugar content of the flesh increases rapidly and water content begins to decrease; the flesh near the stone and fruit stalk becomes yellow and soft; the skin changes to a dark red and fruit becomes wrinkled.

The proper harvesting time depends on the end use of the fruit (fresh consumption, dried or processed). For fresh consumption jujube should be picked at the crisp mature stage to prolong storage life. Fruits to be dried should be picked when fully mature and fruits for candying should be picked at the white mature stage.

In full yield, a tree can produce 30–40kg of fresh fruit per tree with an estimated yield of 20–30t/ha.

In China, fruit harvested for fresh consumption is usually hand-picked. Fruit that is dried can be left on the tree until it drops or is harvested by shaking the tree or branches. Chemical harvest is recommended for dried fruit. Spraying 200−300ppm of ethephon, 5−7 days before harvest may increase harvest efficiency and is beneficial to increase the yield and quality of dried fruit.

After harvesting, fruit is graded and then stored under low temperature, dried, or processed.

Jujube fruit is very perishable and highly susceptible to postharvest decay therefore fresh fruit should be stored in cool rooms. Dried fruit can be stored for up to 12 months in a dry, cool and sheltered environment.

Detailed information on harvesting and storage of jujubes is available in the Best Practice Guide contained within the report Development of the Chinese jujube industry in Australia (RIRDC 2014).

Markets & Marketing

Small quantities of Chinese jujube are grown in Western Australia and sold at local markets and some Asian supermarkets in Perth.

Fresh jujubes are sold in Western Australian metropolitan areas, while dried product imported from China is sold in some health food stores.

It is thought that there is an opportunity to market the fruit both internationally and into the local market as a fresh or dried product. Western Australia’s proximity to South East Asia and its counter season production to the northern hemisphere provide an opportunity to market product for the increasing demand, especially during festivals. Target markets include China, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In 2009, Western Australian grown jujubes were taken to Singapore to investigate potential markets. In 2010, an Australian delegation toured China with the objective of investigating opportunities for counter-seasonal markets and distribution of Chinese jujubes. More research is needed into potential markets in South East Asia for the supply of both fresh and processed product and to provide linkages and information to industry.

The Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) is supporting market investigations and potential growers may choose to contact the industry development officer for updates on market status.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

As with all agricultural pursuits, risk is inherent in Chinese jujube production. Jujube is a new horticultural industry and while demand is currently high, as more growers enter the industry production will rise to meet the market and prices may fall.

There are only three propagators growing jujube trees for commercial production and because demand for plants is high, they cannot keep up with demand. This means potential industry entrants may need to pre-order trees, or wait some time before being able to establish their orchards.

The establishment of a jujube orchard requires considerable capital investment.

It is recommended that new entrants to Chinese jujube production seek advice from an adviser or agronomist before making planting decisions. The Department of Food and Agriculture in Western Australia has a range of resources and contacts.

Regulatory considerations

The standard regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading/unloading of harvested product), apply to jujube operations.

In addition there are a number of regulatory considerations specific to horticultural operations.

Before buying new land to plant orchards, a thorough investigation of the land’s suitability for a horticultural enterprise and its cropping or land use history, should be undertaken. This may include identifying a history of chemical contamination (and residue levels) as some export licences may be withheld on products grown on land where chemical residues exist. Potential disease risks should also be investigated. Some disease pathogens can survive in the soil for many years, so information about previous disease outbreaks will assist determining which trees are suitable for planting. This information can generally be obtained from the relevant state planning authority.

Growers will also be responsible for regularly inspecting their orchards for notifiable pests and diseases and reporting any incidence to the relevant state agriculture department.

When planting new orchards and establishing additional on-farm infrastructure or access roads, liaison with the state government agencies responsible for planning, native vegetation laws and water licences will be necessary. Some land use applications will also need to be considered by the relevant local government authority.

Horticulture and food production businesses have strict requirements in relation to record keeping, registrations, and accreditations as well associated costs for e.g. quality assurance, food safety, safe use of chemicals, environmental performance and intellectual property. Websites like Freshcare may provide a starting point for understanding these requirements.

Image Gallery

Thornless jujube grown in York, WA

Jujubes on tree

Chinese dates

Jujube in flower

Harvested jujubes