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Dragon fruit farmers juggle full-time jobs while expanding their plantation in Central Queensland



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What began as a humble pastime for Sue and Gary Lee, has became a 3,000-plant dragon fruit farm supplying recent produce from central Queensland to Melbourne.

The unique, bright-coloured fruit is available in greater than 100 varieties, which require night-time hand pollination.

The Lees knew nothing concerning the tropical fruit till tasting it on a visit to Vietnam seven years in the past.

They planted 50 cactus cuttings in a paddock close to Rockhampton to attempt one thing new.

“We have gone from a handful of crops to over 3,000 crops,” Mr Lee mentioned.

Gary and Sue standing side-by-side among bright green dragon fruit plants smiling.
Gary and Sue Lee run a dragon fruit plantation at Alton Downs in central Queensland.(ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

AgriFutures Australia mentioned home demand for recent dragon fruit had “grown quickly” with the common worth growing from $3 per kilogram in 2012 to $5 per kilogram in 2020.

Griffith College diet and dietetics lecturer Lisa Vincze mentioned early analysis confirmed the fruit had distinctive well being advantages.

“When it comes to a fruit to eat, completely, it is a good one,” she mentioned.

Juggling two jobs

Mr Lee works in an underground coal mine on different weeks whereas Ms Lee runs a childcare enterprise 4 days per week.

However each additionally put in full-time hours on the plantation.

“We nonetheless need to put in one other 400 [plants] and we’re as much as about 92 varieties of various dragon fruit,” Mr Lee mentioned.

Outdoors her regular work day, Ms Lee picks fruit, grabs cuttings or mows the garden.

“We’re not afraid of a little bit of exhausting work,” she mentioned.

“I believe what you set into your farm is what you get out of it too, in the event you do not put any work in you aren’t getting the advantages.”

Bright yellow dragon fruit loaded up in crates next to the cactus plants on the farm, blue sky.
Dragon fruit is available in many alternative varieties, various in color.(Suppled: Lee’s Dragonfruit Plantation)

Mr Lee works in coal mine security however enjoys the labour-intensive technique of operating the plantation.

“After I come dwelling it is full-on farm work,” he mentioned.

“It is irrigation, fertilisation, loads of pruning work, [and the] choosing is all achieved by hand.

“Regardless that it is exhausting work and it is scorching as a result of it is a summer season blooming plant, I discover it actually rewarding particularly while you get good high quality, actually massive fruit.”

Giant white flowers with yellow centres growing on green cactus plants.
Dragon fruit grows on cactus crops with evening blooming flowers.(Suplied: Lee’s Dragonfruit Plantation)

Night time farming

Dragon fruit crops flower at evening, so the Lees usually have an unconventional work schedule throughout every flush of fruit from November to June.

“I usually vacuum of an evening and acquire pollen after which within the morning we exit hand pollinating with an outdated make up brush and a container of pollen,” he mentioned.

The Lees ship their high-quality produce to Melbourne and promote the smaller fruit at a less expensive price to native markets.

“I believe we would’ve despatched about six pallets final yr so hopefully we’re taking a look at eight or 10 [this year],” Ms Lee mentioned.

“We receives a commission per field and it simply depends upon market worth and the dimensions of the fruit.”

A box overflowing with red and green dragon fruit.
The Lees promote to native markets and Melbourne consumers. (Equipped: Lee’s Dragonfruit Plantation)

Dietary advantages

Dr Vincze mentioned whereas the dietary worth was corresponding to different fruit and veggies, dragon fruit did have some distinctive advantages.

“What the analysis reveals [is for] individuals who have pre-diabetes, or individuals who have diabetes, it might truly assist them to regulate their blood sugar ranges,” she mentioned.

“It is obtained about twice the quantity of fibre that a few 150 gram serve of mango does.

“We’re seeing within the analysis that a few of the antioxidants in [dragon fruit] could assist to guard in opposition to some cell injury however the analysis on this space is pretty new.”

Close up of dragon fruit cut open, bright purple with black seeds.
Griffith College’s Dr Lisa Vincze says dragon fruit seeds comprise wholesome fatty acids.(ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

Dr Vincze mentioned the fruit’s seeds additionally contained wholesome fatty acids.

“We all know that omega 3s and omega 9s, our mono saturated fat, are good for our cardiovascular well being,” she mentioned.

Many are drawn to the fruit for its aesthetic.

“It seems to be wonderful, so it may well make you need to eat your meals, need to eat a smoothie bowl, yoghurt, granola as a result of it is obtained these stunning colors by it,” Dr Vincze mentioned.

Future plans

The Lees additionally develop different produce together with passionfruit, jackfruit, guavas and finger limes.

“We hope to transition at some stage [from our day jobs] to simply the farm as soon as it is totally developed,” Mr Lee mentioned.

“Then it will be our semi-retirement job.”

Two green dragon fruits with dark purple tips sitting on the end of a cactus plant.
Many are drawn to the fruit for its vibrant colors.(Equipped: Lee’s Dragonfruit Plantation)

 They look ahead to seeing extra dragon fruit on the menu throughout Australia.

“A variety of them have citrusy tones or some have berry flavours, [with a ] candy, refined background,” Mr Lee mentioned.

He mentioned there was good demand for the fruit and cuttings for folks to develop it themselves.

“They’re very excessive in antioxidants, good nutritional vitamins and minerals – that is why we obtained into them,” he mentioned.