Ginger

24.05.17

Ginger is the underground rhizome of the perennial plant Zingiber officinale and is used widely as a culinary spice and medicine. It belongs to the plant family Zingiberaceae, which is a family of tropical plants that are used for spices, dyes, perfumes and medicines, and some for their flowers.

Overview

Ginger is believed to have originated in the tropical jungles of southern Asia, probably in the region of modern-day India. Above ground, it is a reed-like plant with lush green leaves growing to about one metre tall. Below ground, is a fleshy rhizome, the part of the plant that is commonly used. The rhizome grows and branches throughout the growing season, sending up more shoots from the new branches.

The Australian industry produces about 8,000 tonnes each year, with a farm gate value of about AU$32 million. About 60% of the production is sold on the fresh market, and the remainder is processed for the food manufacturing and retail sectors.

The ginger industry is mechanised, standardised and centralised, and production is capital and labour-intensive. The growing requires high inputs of good quality water, fertiliser and organic matter; significant investment in irrigation systems and specialised planting and harvesting equipment; and sufficient land to rotate the crop every 1–4 years.

Ginger production in Australia is an established industry, with a grower Research & Development (R&D) levy established in 2010 and an RD&E Plan developed for 2017–22. Growers are represented by the Australian Ginger Industry Association.

Facts and figures

  • It was first grown in Australia in the early 1900s, at Buderim in south east Queensland, to supply the fresh ginger market
  • The Australian industry produces about 8,000 tonnes each year, and is centred in south east Queensland
  • Around 60% of Australian production goes to the domestic fresh market, and the remainder to processing
  • About 40% of the world’s supply of confectionery ginger is processed and supplied by a Queensland company
  • Global production averages 3.3 million tonnes, with India producing 30%, Chian and Nigeria producing 26% and Indonesia, Nepal, and Thailand producing the next 20%

Production status

The Australian industry produces about 8,000 tonnes of ginger each year, with an estimated farm gate value of AU$32 million.

About 60% of the crop is sold fresh and the remainder is sold to processors to manufacture confectionery, pickled products, brewed drinks or paste for cooking. Processing adds a further AU$80 million to the value of the industry.

There are approximately 40 commercial growers growing about 250 hectares of ginger, comprising three large operations of over 50 hectares of crop, about 10 medium-sized operations with about five hectares each, and the remainder were small operations of about 0.5–1.0 hectare each in production.

Most growers derive the majority of their income from fresh ginger and supply the domestic fresh market and the organic produce market.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

It is used as a fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallised (or candied) or ground ingredient in cooking and in food manufacturing. In its various forms it is used to flavour curries, beverages, sweet treats and cakes in many countries across the world; from Japan and China, to India and Pakistan, to countries of the Caribbean, and in Europe.

It is also used for therapeutic purposes in preparations to treat nausea; it has long been used in folk medicine to prevent flu, relieve the symptoms of the common cold and treat nausea. In the mid-2000s there was research into the benefits that ginger may have for arthritis pain, blood thinning and lowering cholesterol.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

The Australian industry is mainly located in south east Queensland between Gatton and Bundaberg, with the majority (approximately 75%) of Queensland’s farms located along coastal areas such as the Sunshine Coast. There is also a centre of production in the Wide Bay–Burnett region of Queensland. There are also small areas of production in northern New South Wales and the Far North Tropical Coast and tablelands.

Soil type
It grows best on well-drained, friable coastal soils. Although it will grow on sandy through to clay loam textures, a loam texture is ideal. It is most often grown on red soils of volcanic origin. Soil pH(water) should be in the range of 5.0–6.0. Some adverse nutrient interactions may occur on soils high in manganese, with low soil pH.

Climate

It grows best in the wet tropical and subtropical climate regions of eastern Australia. It will also grow well in the tropical regions that have a dry season, if irrigation is available. The industry is particularly well suited to the Sunshine Coast region, which experiences high temperatures and humidity, and high rainfall during summer. Being a tropical plant, it is not tolerant of frost. Ginger performs best on sheltered sites that are protected from wind and extreme heat.

Varieties

The most common variety grown in Australia for processing is Queensland, but a small amount may be sold to the fresh market. The most common variety for the fresh market is Canton (also called Jumbo).

A tetraploid, Buderim Gold, was developed for increased rhizome size but the rhizomes of this type are, in fact, too large for the processing equipment currently in use. The Australian Ginger Industry Association is also interested in developing disease-resistant and less fibrous varieties.

Other species of ginger are also grown in the same region, and in some cases on the same farms, including myoga or Japanese ginger (Zingiber mioga), galangal (Alpina galanga) and Jamaican Ginger.

Planting and crop management

About 10 months before planting (November–December), the general recommendation is to grow a green manure crop and turn it into the soil by the following July, to build up soil organic matter and structure.

Prior to planting, the soil must be formed up into beds, approximately 150mm high and 1,200–1,650mm wide to improve soil drainage. Contour drains may be installed at regular intervals to minimise soil erosion on sloping land. Pre-plant fertiliser may be applied either before or during bed forming.

A crop is established by planting seed (golf-ball sized pieces of the rhizome), using a modified potato planter, from August through to mid-October — with mid to late September being the optimal planting time. Planting requires about 6–10 t/ha of seed ginger. 

High-quality seed is vital for growing high-yielding crops, therefore careful selection of pest- and disease-free planting material is critical. Growers establish crops with a combination of their own seed and seed purchased from other growers or specialised seed growers.

While it is a perennial plant, growers will rotate the crop from one patch of ground to the next, every 1–4 years. Rotation is primarily practiced to break pest and disease cycles, as well as to allow the soil to recover from the intensive and continuous production cycle of ginger. Soil recovery may be aided by growing cover crops, such as oats, sorghum, corn, brassica and pasture grasses, in the summer and winter fallow periods.

Although it is grown in high rainfall areas, it requires ample water to maintain rapid growth rates. Prospective growers will need access to, or storage capacity for, approximately 10ML/ha per season of good quality water. Regular irrigation is essential following planting to prevent sunburn of newly developed shoots and to prevent water stress in the crop.

High yielding ginger has a high nutrient requirement, and a range of fertiliser products (organic and inorganic) and soil conditioners are applied before and throughout the growing season — including poultry manure, sawdust, urea, phosphate and potassium nitrate. A soil analysis will provide a guide for pre-plant and side dressing fertiliser applications, particularly on new blocks.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Soil preparation and bed formation will control some weeds, but a registered pre-emergent herbicide is advised immediately after planting. If rain does not fall within a day or so of planting, irrigation may be required to stimulate weed germination.

Pests and diseases are a constant threat to high yields, and there is an expectation within the industry that 10% of the crop will be lost each season, because of disease. The most common disease threat is Fusarium Yellow, responsible for a serious rhizome rot, and other common pathogens include root-knot nematode and Pythium. These soilborne pathogens can be spread not only in soil adhering to boots, vehicles and farming implements but also through infected planting material (seed). Once Fusarium and Pythium are introduced into a patch they are almost impossible to eradicate. Less common diseases include bacterial soft rot (caused by Erwinia), armillaria and big bud.

Pythium Soft Rot is regarded as one of the most destructive diseases of ginger worldwide. Epidemics of the disease caused by the water-mould fungus Pythium myriotylum were first recorded in Australia during the wet summer of 2007–08. During the 2011–12 season, it was estimated that 1,500 tonnes were lost due to the disease. The pathogen can be spread by soil, water and seed; and it can be managed through a combination of strategies that need to be integrated in an effective manner. The industry has taken coordinated action to control the disease and minimise its impacts through research and publication of a fact sheet Controlling Pythium and Associated Pests in Ginger.

The major pests are cutworm, heliothis and symphilids, which affect the ginger directly after planting. African black beetle is a less common pest, which generally affects the plant during early growth. The fact sheet Controlling Pythium and Associated Pests in Ginger fact sheet provides further information on research carried out on pests in Ginger.

In addition to chemical control options, crop rotation is an important means of controlling pests and diseases.

Infrastructure Requirements

Growing ginger requires standard horticultural machinery for field maintenance and bed-forming; and specialised machinery for planting and harvesting. Growers with small areas may plant and harvest by hand.

An irrigation system is required to maintain water supply to this fast growing crop and to ensure good production rates.

If producing ginger for the fresh market, a packing shed will be required where freshly harvested ginger can be washed, air-dried, graded and packed for market. Processing ginger may require the same post-harvest handling or it may be delivered directly from the field to the processer.

Harvesting & Processing

Harvest time for ginger will depend on the intended end use of the product. Ginger to be used in confectionery processing will be harvested February–March (early harvest ginger), which is generally 5–6 months after planting. Ginger for other processed products, will be harvested from May (first late harvest) through to July (second late harvest).

Early harvest will ensure a softer, juicier and less fibrous product, but yields will be lower than later harvested crops. Late harvest ginger will be ‘stronger’ in spice and taste, and is also more likely to be affected by pests and disease than earlier harvested ginger.

Fresh market ginger is harvested year round, and anytime from 6–18 months after planting. Table 2 of the report The Australian ginger industry — overview of market trends and opportunities summarises the expected product quality for ginger harvested at different times throughout the production cycle.

Ginger is harvested mechanically or manually, depending on the size of the operation. Most large and medium-sized operations use mechanical pullers and diggers to lift and collect rhizomes. Some medium- and small-sized operations lift the rhizomes mechanically and then collect them by hand. Some operations may conduct the whole harvesting process manually.

Cleaning excess soil, roots and stems is done by hand. The cleaned rhizomes are placed in field bins of 500 kilogram capacity, and the bins are returned to the packing shed or delivered to the processor (washed or unwashed), as required.

After harvest, fresh ginger is washed and air dried on farm; and then cut and graded according to size, shape and colour, and packed into boxes by grade. Ginger offcuts are typically supplied to juice manufacturers or disposed of. Alternatively, some growers mulch offcuts for use as a fertiliser.

Markets & Marketing

Global production averages 3.3 million tonnes, with India producing 30% of that, Chian and Nigeria producing 26% and Indonesia, Nepal, and Thailand producing the next 20%. Australia produces approximately 8,000 tonnes each year, which is less than 1% of global production.

About 60% of Australian grown ginger is sold to the fresh domestic market through agents in all capital cities; and the remainder is sold to one of three processors, to make ingredients for the food-manufacturing sector and to produce retail products such as confectionery, cordials and preserves.

Less than half of Australia’s production is exported as spice, preserved or in syrup. Australia’s importation averages around 800 tonnes (approximately) of crushed and ground ginger and 900 tonnes of prepared or preserved ginger.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges
Epedemics of pythium soft rot (2007–08 and 2011–12) have posed a risk to the ginger industry. The industry is taking action to address these epidemics. It has instigated research into the disease and its control, and produced a fact sheet for growers, Controlling Pythium and Associated Pests in Ginger. Success of these measures requires adherence to recommendations by all ginger growers.

Production has a high casual labour requirement during harvest and securing a workforce during this time can be difficult but is critical for success.

Urban development around the Sunshine Coast area is driving up land prices and limiting the availability of reasonably priced land to expand growing enterprises. With processing facilities also located on the Sunshine Coast, expansion into other regions would require additional transport and add costs to commercial operations.

Regulatory considerations

Awareness and adherence of biosecurity is critical for the industry. There are several pests and diseases of global significance that do not exist in Australia. The industry has developed an industry biosecurity plan to outline key threats to the industry, risk mitigation plans, identification and categorisation of exotic pests, and contingency plans. Australia does not currently permit the importation of fresh rhizomes for human consumption from any country (although as at 2013, an application for imports of fresh ginger from Fiji was in the approval process. To maintain relative freedom of pests and diseases, ginger (especially for planting material) should only be imported according to the Australian Government’s biosecurity requirements.

Image Gallery

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Commercial ginger crop growing in rows

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Freshly harvested ginger plants

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Ginger plants being mechanically harvested

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Sliced ginger root

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