The West

Black gold farmers eye a bonanza

They say it every year. And every year they are right.

"This will be the biggest harvest since truffle growing began in the Manjimup region," Truffle Producers WA chairman Mark Horwood said.

"Definitive figures are hard to come by mid-season but early indicators from growers support the bullish predictions of a bumper season."

The Truffle & Wine Company, which claims to be the biggest grower of black truffles in the world, says it's been so-far-so-good this season.

"We've already pulled 1.2 tonnes from our trufferie and we estimate there's another 3.2 tonnes before season's end," Truffle & Wine Company chief executive Gavin Booth said.

"The quality, especially for the established growers who have fully matured trees, is very good this year too."

Manjimup truffles retail at $2500 a kilogram. . The wholesale figure is about $1000/kg less than retail. Based on the Truffle And Wine Company's figures alone, the company can expect to generate sales of $11 million from its projected 4.4 tonnes.

Mr Booth says it has taken 10 years of knocking on doors but the sceptical French have at last come around.

"France is set to become our biggest client this year," Mr Booth said.

David Pottinger, who owns the small Tante Maggie trufferie near Pemberton, said so far this season he had pulled 480kg of truffles from his 1000 tree farm and expects to haul 1.5 tonnes by the end of the 16-week season.

Mr Pottinger and other truffle growers hosted France's biggest truffle dealer Pierre-Jean Pebeyre in Manjimup last week.

"He was amazed at what we do here," Mr Pottinger said. "He told me that we're getting up to five times more truffles per hectare than growers in France. It's easy to see why he's interested in Manjimup."

Ninety to 95 per cent of Manjimup truffles are destined for overseas, with strong markets in Japan, Hong Kong, France, Britain, the US and Russia.

"Make no bones about it though, Australians are consuming truffle at historic rates, too," Mr Horwood said. "This is particularly true in the three main restaurant cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

Manjimup truffle grower and industry stalwart Al Blakers agreed.

"They're chewing through the truffles like nobody's business in Perth," Mr Blakers said.

"It's difficult to keep up and I'm having to ration my international customers.

"It's an interesting season this year. Truffles are smaller but the volume in the ground is significantly more than in previous years. It's probably due to the heatwave we had in January."

Mr Blakers said he hoped to harvest 800-1000kg this season.

Growers in the Southern Forests region, which includes Pemberton and Manjimup, are expect to harvest 9 tonnes of black truffle this season.

The West Australian

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