Pipfruit back on track in Cen­tral Otago

The Orchardist - - Contents - Story by Dianne King

Pipfruit grow­ers in Cen­tral Otago are look­ing to a re­peat of the 20122013 sea­son af­ter suc­cess­ful re­turns which see the in­dus­try ‘ back on track' as an ex­port and sus­tain­able in­come earner for those com­mit­ted to the in­dus­try. Et­trick grower and Pipfruit New Zealand Otago di­rec­tor Stephen Dar­ling was fo­cus­ing on apri­cots when con­tacted, but is up­beat about the prospects of the com­ing sea­son for the prov­ince's pipfruit or­chardists given the record achieve­ment last year. About 16.9 mil­lion car­tons were re­spon­si­ble for the in­come boost to the New Zealand econ­omy this past sea­son. For pipfruit grow­ers the ben­e­fit of this suc­cess­ful sea­son was pos­i­tive re­turns fol­low­ing four or five years of low prices.

In a press re­lease in early Jan­uary Pipfruit New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Alan Pol­lard said the largest crop in nearly ten years has seen the New Zealand ap­ple and pear in­dus­try sur­pass $500 mil­lion worth of ex­ports for the first time. “New Zealand pro­duces high qual­ity fruit us­ing the world's safest and most sus­tain­able in­te­grated and or­ganic pro­duc­tion sys­tems,” says Mr Pol­lard. “Our cus­tomers are will­ing to pay premi­ums for those at­tributes and our fruit com­mands the high­est prices,” he said.

“It was a good year for Otago. Fruit qual­ity was ex­cel­lent and the pack­houses have all per­formed ex­tremely well with good pack­outs around 90%. Re­turns were up 20% to 25% on last year, by an av­er­age of about $25 a car­ton.”

Jazz va­ri­ety grow­ers in Otago were also on the re­ceiv­ing end of a suc­cess­ful sea­son. A spe­cial tro­phy for Cen­tral Otago grow­ers was pre­sented to Roxburgh or­chardist Sid Bir­tles along with man­ager Mark Sim, not­ing their achieve­ments in 2012–2013.

ENZA Otago re­gional man­ager Jeff McDon­ald said over­seas mar­keter Steve Maxwell pre­sented the cup at a celebration din­ner. Tro­phy win­ners in the past have been JR Webb & Sons, (Cromwell), South­ern and Rose­burn (Roxburgh), he said. Find­ing a win­ner for this past sea­son had been dif­fi­cult be­cause of the dif­fer­ent ma­tu­rity of trees. “We've tried to make it trans­par­ent… cov­er­ing size, qual­ity at har­vest and at pack­house, es­ti­mates and re­turns per hectare.” This past sea­son there had been good sized fruit. “The nat­u­ral av­er­age of a Jazz ap­ple was 115, Otago's was 108, and the sweet spot for Jazz is re­ally about 110.”

“The whole Otago sup­ply chain from grow­ers to pack­ers to cool­stores, have all per­formed very well.”

“It was a good year for Otago. Fruit qual­ity was ex­cel­lent and the pack­houses have all per­formed ex­tremely well with good pack­outs around 90%. Re­turns were up 20% to 25% on last year, by an av­er­age of about $25 a car­ton. The whole Otago sup­ply chain from grow­ers to pack­ers to cool­stores, have all per­formed very well.” There was a de­mand for Jazz ap­ples with all the mar­kets want­ing more and al­though there is a Euro­pean ap­ple called Kanzi, which is of a sim­i­lar strain to Jazz, this va­ri­ety was “not as good as Jazz.” “All the mar­kets want more.” About 630,000 tray car­ton equiv­a­lents were han­dled this sea­son, which was up on the 2012 sea­son, he said.

The com­ing pipfruit sea­son in Cen­tral Otago was look­ing very promis­ing be­cause there was a gen­eral feel­ing that early grow­ing de­gree days in late Novem­ber were al­ready top­ping those of the 2011 sea­son. “High grow­ing de­gree days re­sult in bet­ter sized ap­ples,” he said.

Of the Otago crop through Enza 20% went to the United King­dom and 33% to the con­ti­nent, which achieved the best re­turns there for the many years. Large sized ap­ples go to ei­ther Asia or the United States and this year the United States was up at 24%, with Asia back at 23%, “be­cause the money was bet­ter,” he said.

The Cen­tral Otago Jazz va­ri­ety tro­phy was a spin-off from the dis­trict's grow­ers' group which over the years has will­ingly shared knowl­edge about the va­ri­ety, Mr McDon­ald said.

Roxburgh East fruit­grower Sid Bir­tles (left) and or­chard man­ager Mark Sim, win­ners of the soughtafter Cen­tral Otago tro­phy for the best grow­ers of the Jazz va­ri­ety. (photo sup­plied)

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