Jackfruit

24.05.17

The Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) tree is a medium-sized evergreen that grows between nine and 20 metres in height. The fruit is the largest tree-grown fruit in the world, with some varieties having the potential to weigh up to 50kg, although they generally weigh between 5-15kg. When immature, the flesh of this exotic tropical fruit can be used in Asian curries and vegetable dishes. Once mature and ripe, the flesh varies from lemony yellow to deep orange in colour, with a juicy, banana/pineapple-like flavour.

Overview

Jackfruit is a compound fruit with numerous individual flowers fused into one fruit. A typical jackfruit will contain 30-50 flesh fruit bulbs surrounding a large starchy seed with a brown seed coat. The fruit bulbs are separated by unfertilised fleshy segments known as “rags”. Jackfruit seeds can be boiled and mashed or roasted or eaten like nuts.

Jackfruit is indigenous to south west India, but has naturalised in Malaysia, south east Asia and east Africa over centuries of human movement about the tropics and is now found in most tropical lowland regions of the world. In Australia it grows in tropical Queensland and in the top of the Northern Territory.

Jackfruit can be a useful addition to an exotic tropical fruit business due to its ability to withstand some winds, making it a potential windbreak for other, more vulnerable fruit trees.

Jackfruit is a major cultivated fruit throughout Asia and demand is considered to be rising in Australia, particularly as a meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans.

Jack fruit was introduced into Australia in the 1800s as a garden plant, but different varieties better suited to commercial production were introduced in the 1960s and 70s. The industry is regarded as a developing industry and its interests are represented by the Rare Fruits Association and the Sub-tropical Fruit Club of Queensland.

Facts and figures

  • Jackfruit are the largest tree-grown fruit in the world
  • Jackfruit is an exotic tropical fruit, which is grown in north Queensland and around Darwin in the Northern Territory
  • It has a range of uses, including fresh, sweet and savoury dishes
  • As jackfruit can tolerate some wind, they are considered a useful windbreak for other exotic tropical fruit trees
  • Because jackfruit are very heavy, transport costs from northern growing areas to southern markets present a marketing challenge

Production status

There is strong demand for Australian grown jackfruit and all fruit is consumed domestically.

While the importation of fresh jackfruit into Australia is not permitted for biosecurity reasons, approximately two tonnes of processed jackfruit from Thailand was imported in 2011–12.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Like all tropical fruit, jackfruit is generally eaten fresh or used as a fresh ingredient. When unripe, the green flesh of this exotic tropical fruit can be used in Asian curries and vegetable dishes.

Ripe jackfruit can be used in desserts and ice-cream. Its seeds can be boiled and mashed and made into a dip with additions of garlic, herbs and olive oil or roasted and eaten like nuts.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Jackfruit is grown near Darwin in the Northern Territory and tropical regions of North Queensland.

Globally, jackfruit bears fruit at latitudes up to 30° from the equator. Although primarily equatorial the tree will grow and fruit in humid subtropical areas.

Soil type

Jackfruit performs best on deep well-drained alluvial, sandy or clay loam soils, with a soil pH of 6.0–7.5. However, it is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, including shallow, slightly saline and infertile soils.

The tree does not tolerate waterlogging for more than one or two days, therefore well-drained soil is critical.

Climate

Jackfruit prefers a warm humid tropical climate and thrives in lowland coastal areas below an altitude of 1,000m, where temperatures average 24–28°C and annual rainfall is more than 1,500mm and uniformly distributed throughout the year.

Jackfruit can tolerate 3–4 months of drought but it produces best with year round rainfall or supplementary irrigation. It can tolerate a light frost but at 0°C leaves may be damaged and at -2°C branches or the whole tree may die. It can tolerate moderate winds, meaning jackfruit can be utilised as a windbreak tree in an orchard environment.

Varieties

Australia has a limited range of cultivars with the majority of material based on seedling selections introduced during the 1960s and 70s. Fruit are either soft or firm fleshed (crispy); and the aril colour is yellow to pinky-orange. The crisp pink/orange fleshed cultivars generally obtain the highest market prices. Black gold, Honey gold, Lemon Gold and Gold Nugget, are older varieties now mainly in southern USA collections. Two new clonal selections made by Ingham based nurserymen are Rajang and Amber. Both of these new clones are orange crisp flesh types. Rajang is a larger and later maturing fruit than Amber.

A project is currently underway, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research which aims to select new clones from dark orange crispy fleshed seedling material grown throughout northern Australia.

Planting and crop management

Jackfruit is not often grown as an orchard tree but rather inter-planted with another fruit crop. However, this is changing with most clonal based producers using typical orchard production methods. Tree spacings around 8-9m x 5-6m are used with an increasing trend to move to more intensively managed higher density orchards. A couple of growers are even trialling trellising (T-type) as a production method. There is limited management information available for jackfruit in Australia, and potential growers should consult a horticultural advisor and current growers, to better understand management requirements of the crop.

The tolerance of jackfruit to wind makes it a useful windbreak species for more vulnerable, exotic tropical fruit trees.

Many production orchards, particularly in the Northern Territory are based on seedling trees. These orchards can be highly variable.  Growers generally produce their own seedlings. Clonal trees (varieties) are in limited supply and produced by a few specialist nurseries. If growing from seed, plants should be propagated in tall pots to allow the development of the tap root, which must be handled carefully when transplanting.

Seedlings are planted at a spacing appropriate to a mixed species windbreak or orchard and a mixed fertiliser should be applied at planting. Further applications of a mixed fertiliser during all growth stages are beneficial.

Young trees will require pruning to achieve 3–4 branches, and it will take 5–6 years to produce the first fruit.

While jackfruit will grow in seasonally dry climates, irrigation in the dry season will improve growth and maximise production.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Some of the major pests and diseases of Jackfruit include shoot borers, bark borers, mealy bugs and scale insects. Blossom and fruit rots, pinks disease and bacterial dieback can also be a problem. These pests and diseases do not generally cause major economic damage but regular monitoring and appropriate control measures are recommended.

Please check the Pubcris Database on the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website to see if there are any chemicals are either registered or permitted for your specific crop or more generally for your crop grouping e.g. Jackfruit specifically or tropical fruit more generally. Once you have found the chemicals listed, view the label and follow the instructions according to the label.

Infrastructure Requirements

Most established horticultural enterprises suit exotic tropical fruit production, and will have the infrastructure required for jackfruit, which includes production machinery, an irrigation system, as well as cleaning, sorting, packing and refrigeration infrastructure.

Note, however that jackfruit is not suited to automated or mechanical processing infrastructure due to their size, so cleaning, packing and sorting will need to be done by hand.

Harvesting & Processing

Jackfruit season varies with growing location and yearly conditions. In the Northern Territory, the bulk of fruit are produced from June to September, while on the wet coast of tropical north Queensland the main season is from January to May.

Identification of fruit maturity is problematic. Jackfruit is a climacteric fruit and will continue to ripen when picked mature green (like papaya and mango). Growers in India and Asia as well as Australia look for a number of maturity cues; these include a change in skin colour from dark to light green, a flattening and spreading of the spiny protuberances and a characteristic fruit aroma. Experienced growers also use audio cues by tapping fruit with a stick or pvc pipe and listening for a dull thud. 

Fruit are generally physiologically mature at 120-130 days after flowering, although this will vary with variety. A mature fruit should become soft-ripe from 5-7 days after picking.

To harvest the fruit, the stalk is cut with a sharp knife and the fruit lowered with the stem facing down as latex will flow from the cut. Avoid placing the fruit on the ground as this increases the chance of contamination with postharvest rot organisms. Allow the fruit stalk to bleed before further handling to minimise the spread of the sticky latex.

Jackfruit should ripen within 5-7 days following harvest. Fruit which ripen within 24 hours of picking are generally over-mature for market. As previously mentioned jackfruit is also harvested when small and green for cooking in stews and curries.

The fruit is usually washed prior to packing, and then packed into large cardboard cartons to a weight of 20kg. Jackfruit are generally too large to go through traditional horticultural packing machinery and therefore washing and packing is usually done by hand.

Jackfruit can be cool stored at 10-12°C without causing chilling injury. These lower temperatures will also retard ripening until fruit are transferred to warmer conditions. Temperatures lower than this will cause chilling injury. At this stage, jackfruit are packed on farm and sold to buyers/agents, wholesalers or directly to retail outlets, where they are either on-sold, utilised in the food service industry or processed for other uses.

Markets & Marketing

The large size and weight of jackfruit make it expensive to transport the long distance from northern growing areas to the main domestic markets on the east coast, but they are available in supermarkets in some parts of Australia. Jackfruit can be found at farmers markets, particularly in Darwin.

The broader exotic tropical fruit industry is considered a small niche industry and the fruit is currently grown in small quantities, therefore marketing can be a challenge. When planning to market any horticultural product, it is important to remember that wholesalers and retailers are generally looking for the following attributes from a supplier:

  • clean unmarked fruit
  • good rich flesh colour
  • a great tasting product
  • high quality flesh texture
  • on-time delivery and consistency of supply.

The need for on-time delivery and consistency of supply, usually at high volumes, is an additional challenge that can hamper exotic tropical fruit producers from actively participating in the larger horticultural market. This has been a particular challenge for growers in North Queensland recovering from cyclones Larry and Yasi, where a large part of the exotic tropical fruit industry was destroyed. Those growers who have decided to re-plant and are harvesting fruit from their remaining trees have noted the difficulty in supplying consistent volumes large enough to justify transport costs or attract wholesalers. As a result, many growers are marketing at a local level, for example selling at farmers markets or directly to restaurants. Some growers are investigating tourism opportunities through farm tours or farm gate sales. Research is also underway into potential value add opportunities for exotic tropical fruit.

The supply chain for tropical fruit provides a useful framework for industry entrants to understand the potential marketing structure. It should be noted that while the supply chain is relatively short, the diverse array of participants and the need to move fruit quickly before it deteriorates, does add some complexity.

A typical supply chain for tropical fruit has the following linkages:

  • grower
  • packer
  • transporter
  • unloading agent
  • wholesaler/agent
  • (potentially a secondary wholesaler)
  • processor
  • exporter
  • retailer
    • chain retailer (e.g. major supermarket)
    • specialist retailer (e.g. a fruit and vegetable shop)
    • foodservice (e.g. a restaurant)
  • consumer.

These are not necessarily listed as a sequential supply chain, for example some growers will bypass packers and wholesalers and sell directly to restaurants or consumers. Wholesalers will also sell to secondary wholesalers, who in turn on-sell to smaller retail buyers and providers who may supply the food service industry.

Traditionally, wholesale ‘central’ markets in capital cities were the major way to sell and distribute horticultural products. Supermarket and other retail buyers would visit and buy produce required, based on available supply. Now the large supermarket chains such as Coles and Woolworths often prefer to deal directly with growers who produce larger volumes or alternatively with packers or agents who consolidate produce from a number of growers to ensure consistent supply.

Factors affecting the price are seasonal availability, the availability of substitute products and consumer spending and preferences. Premium produce will generally earn a premium price, however, there are no guarantees of this always happening. For example an oversupply of high quality fruit will depress prices but equally, periods of low availability will see even average quality fruit command high prices.

It is often suggested that one of the best ways to monitor price signals and plan production accordingly is the establishment of good business relationships between the grower and the wholesaler/agent. This can add some transparency around market signals.

Risks & Regulations

Like all tree crops, the biggest commercial risk to new entrants to the industry is the length of time between planting and the first harvest (for jackfruit approximately 3 years). Add to this, many exotic tropical fruit trees require significant upfront investment (for example, irrigation and trellising infrastructure), intensive management and a significant investment of time and energy, a return on investment may take even longer to achieve.

General risks associated with growing the broad range of exotic tropical fruits are different for each market but may include:

  • unpredictable weather conditions affecting yield, meaning inconsistent cropping from year to year
  • crop losses from rats, birds or flying foxes that may require expensive solutions (not generally an issue for jackfruit unless allowed to ripen on tree)
  • the availability and cost of labour, as exotic tropical fruits are harvested by hand
  • the short amount of time to transport fruit to market before it starts to deteriorate
  • the challenges of understanding the marketing of exotic tropical fruits with limited information available.

For jackfruit, an added challenge is the large size and weight of fruit, making it expensive to transport the long distance from northern growing areas to the main domestic markets on the east coast.

Tropical cyclones pose a considerable risk to primary industries in far north Queensland and the Northern Territory. Cyclones Larry (2006) and Yasi (2011) devastated production areas of far north Queensland around the towns of Innisfail, Tully and Cardwell and inland regions of the southern Atherton Tablelands. In the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi, a number of Queensland growers left the tropical tree fruit industry.

While an understanding of the lessons learned by these cyclone events has been documented, research into cyclone preparedness is still underway with a range of management options, like trellising of fruit trees, being investigated. Since the cyclones, securing affordable insurance is a major challenge to growers in cyclone prone regions with some insurers declining to offer insurance at all, leading some growers to put in place their own risk minimisation strategies.

Regulatory considerations

Before buying new land to plant orchards, a thorough investigation of the land’s suitability for a horticultural enterprise and it’s 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 cost 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.

Publications

Publications/information

Emerging animal and plant industries: Their value to Australia RIRDC report (2014)

NT Tropical Fruits Industry Market Opportunities – RIRDC Publication

Jackfruit – Northern Territory Government

New Crop Industries Handbook RIRDC publication (2004)

Other resources

Freshcare – on-farm assurance program for the fresh produce industry

Jackfruit  Species profile for Pacific Island Agroforestry

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Pubcris Database on the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website

Image Gallery

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Jackfruit on tree at various stages of growth

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Selection of tropical fruit

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Large jackfruit on tree

Related Publications

03.03.09

Emerging Animal and Plant Industries - Their Value to Australia (2nd Edition)

01.07.04

N.T. Tropical Fruits Industry Market Opportunities

01.09.04

New Crop Industries Handbook