Pipfruit back on track in Central Otago
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.