Pipfruit ex­pan­sion con­tin­ues

The Orchardist - - Apples & Pears - By Rose Man­ner­ing

Pipfruit plant­ings con­tinue at pace as re­cent years of strong re­turns has buoyed the in­dus­try.

Ag­first con­sul­tant Ross Wil­son says Hawke’s Bay has nu­mer­ous new green­field sites be­ing planted this year. “This is the most

sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod of de­vel­op­ment I have ever seen,” he says.

The ex­act amount of new plant­ings is dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain as many grow­ers don’t reg­is­ter new sites un­til they come into pro­duc­tion, in the sec­ond or third year af­ter plant­ing.

New Zealand Ap­ples and Pears sta­tis­tics show a mod­est in­crease of 300 hectares planted over the win­ter of 2017 to a to­tal in ex­cess of 9,800 hectares na­tion­ally, but the ac­tual fig­ure is likely to be con­sid­er­ably higher than this.

While growth in plant­ings in re­cent years has been sig­nif­i­cant, the planted area is still well short of the peak reached be­fore dereg­u­la­tion of the New Zealand Ap­ple and Pear Mar­ket­ing Board. Prior to 2001, the planted area ex­ceeded 15,000 hectares.

Di­ver­sity of plant­ing con­tin­ues at pace as grow­ers align with club va­ri­eties of­fer­ing a smor­gas­bord of choice. T&G’s Envy ap­ple leads the charge, but other club va­ri­eties such as Hon­ey­crisp, Koru, Rockit and Am­brosia fea­ture among the

Week 41, 337,000 tonnes of pipfruit has been ex­ported, or 86 per cent of the fore­casted vol­ume.”

New Zealand Ap­ples and Pears chief ex­ec­u­tive Alan Pol­lard

most favourite choices, with Daz­zle ex­pected to fea­ture in fu­ture plant­ings.

High coloured strains of Royal Gala, Pink Lady and Fuji are also be­ing widely planted.

Ex­porters con­tinue to put a great em­pha­sis on de­vel­op­ing their own pro­pri­etary va­ri­eties to give them a mar­ket edge. Scales Cor­po­ra­tion man­ag­ing direc­tor Andy Bor­land says de­vel­op­ment of Diva and Daz­zle is go­ing well, with fur­ther new va­ri­eties still in the pipe­line. An early sea­son pink to bright red ap­ple with a sweet honey flavour, and a highly pro­duc­tive, large, full-red ap­ple that also ma­tures early in the sea­son are be­ing de­vel­oped.

A growth tar­get of 3.5-mil­lion TCEs by 2020 was set by the com­pany, but this was reached four years ahead of sched­ule and has now been in­creased to 4-mil­lion car­tons. With the ad­di­tion of Longview and Fern Ridge, Scales’ Hor­ti­cul­ture di­vi­sion is ex­pected to han­dle more than 25% of New Zealand’s to­tal ap­ple crop.

RAIN CHECK

A very promis­ing start to the pipfruit mar­ket­ing sea­son in 2017 fell short as rain af­fected fruit qual­ity in later va­ri­eties and grow­ers’ abil­ity to get the fruit picked. With still the tail end of the har­vest to be ex­ported, it is be­com­ing clear the crop will be smaller than 2016.

New Zealand Ap­ples and Pears chief ex­ec­u­tive Alan Pol­lard says by Week 41, 337,000 tonnes of pipfruit has been ex­ported, or 86 per cent of the fore­casted vol­ume. This is four per cent down on last year, where a to­tal of 352,000 tonnes was ex­ported.

Ross Wil­son says rain­fall dur­ing the au­tumn har­vest was more than dou­ble its nor­mal level. Cy­clone Cook was dis­rup­tive, carv­ing a swathe through the re­gion at Easter time. Whole rows of heav­ily laden Pink Lady trees were knocked over dur­ing the height of the storm.

Fur­ther warm cy­clonic weather con­tin­ued to make for a dif­fi­cult har­vest through into May. “Har­vest con­di­tions were made very dif­fi­cult, colour de­vel­op­ment was poor, and ground con­di­tions were ap­palling. High winds brought by the cy­clone meant a por­tion of the crop fell to the ground.

Sec­ondary bruis­ing and fruit han­dling is­sues re­sulted in fur­ther losses. Va­ri­eties most af­fected were Pa­cific Rose and Queen, Pink Lady and Fuji.

Andy Bor­land says the ex­tremely wet con­di­tions in the lat­ter part of the 2017 har­vest sea­son re­sulted in a poorer than ex­pected re­cov­ery. Royal Gala was mostly har­vested be­fore the del­uge, and reached tar­geted vol­umes and prices.

Wet con­di­tions car­ried right through the win­ter, and in­dus­try com­men­ta­tors were warn­ing grow­ers to ap­proach thin­ning sprays with care, as wa­ter logged soils had the po­ten­tial to lead to heavy fruit drop.

Ross is buoy­ant about the prospects for the 2018 sea­son. In the main, grow­ers have avoided over-thin­ning and warm spring con­di­tions with plenty of sun­shine days have meant a good for young fruitlets.

The sea­son is run­ning 10 – 14 days ear­lier than last year, and he ex­pects that to carry through to ear­lier har­vest dates. From his client base, he be­lieves re­turns are back by $1 to $2 on the 2016 sea­son, which was out­stand­ing in all re­spects. “This still rep­re­sents a good level of prof­itabil­ity for grow­ers,” he says.

Mar­ket­ing con­di­tions for Brae­burn in par­tic­u­lar have been tough, with prices per car­ton drop­ping to $19 in some cases. Fur­ther re­duc­tions in planted area of this va­ri­ety can be ex­pected. Other late sea­son va­ri­eties Fuji, Pa­cific Queen and Rose have also been price checked with qual­ity is­sues con­tribut­ing to a dif­fi­cult mar­ket­ing sea­son.

T&G GM Pipfruit NZ Bruce Beaton says T&G is work­ing hard to main­tain ca­pac­ity for growth in through­put, es­pe­cially for their new flag­ship va­ri­ety Envy. Mar­ket con­di­tions for Pa­cific Queen had been tough this year, and work would be un­der­taken to spread mar­ket ac­cep­tance to a broader

au­di­ence.

“We were com­pro­mised by the qual­ity of fruit this year which af­fected our abil­ity to main­tain vol­umes into China,” he says. T&G has plans to re­view its en­tire in­fra­struc­ture. In­vest­ment con­tin­ues into the whole sup­ply chain from tree to mar­ket.

The Envy sell­ing sea­son will be com­pleted in Novem­ber, when sales are handed over to US sup­pli­ers of the fruit.

CHAL­LENGES AHEAD

Alan Pol­lard says chal­lenges lie ahead, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to mar­ket ac­cess. South­ern Hemi­sphere ap­ple pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues to grow. Trickle down ef­fect can be ex­pected from Trump’s “Amer­ica First” cam­paign, and across the At­lantic Brexit will also lead to changes. Trump’s at­ti­tude to­ward the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (be­tween Mex­ico, US and Canada) of­fers a threat and op­por­tu­nity for New Zealand grow­ers. If trade be­tween the US and Mex­ico slows, it could offer a pos­i­tive spin off here.

With Bri­tain pulling out of the EU, New Zealand will need to ne­go­ti­ate a free trade agree­ment with Europe.

“We face a lot of reg­u­la­tory hur­dles, there are in­creas­ing non-tar­iff bar­ri­ers com­ing out of Asia. We have been work­ing hard in this space, work­ing with these coun­tries find­ing com­mon ground.”

Un­cer­tainty around North Korea, and trade is­sues be­tween the US and China also pro­pose a threat to ex­port­ing from New Zealand. “We don’t want to be col­lat­eral dam­age,” he says.

The new Gov­ern­ment’s at­ti­tude to­ward the Trade Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) would also be watched with in­ter­est. “It is not easy to rene­go­ti­ate these things, as a trad­ing na­tion this could offer us real benefits, es­pe­cially trad­ing with Ja­pan.”

“We will be look­ing for a very clear trade agenda from our new Gov­ern­ment. There is un­cer­tainty around this area.” The in­dus­try needed to re­main fo­cused on not just achiev­ing great pro­duc­tion, but also sell­ing a com­mer­cially vi­able prod­uct on in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

As the crop in­creases, the de­mand for labour will also in­crease. Un­em­ploy­ment lev­els are low, and pipfruit em­ploy­ers have worked very hard on cre­at­ing path­ways for New Zealand work­ers into the in­dus­try.

“We are de­pen­dent on the RSE pro­gramme to har­vest the crop; we can’t sur­vive with­out the scheme. We have 10,500 RSEs com­ing; pipfruit, ki­wifruit and grapes are all grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially, all of us are re­li­able on a cred­i­ble

re­li­able labour source.

“We con­tinue to grow the in­dus­try, vol­ume and prof­itabil­ity

with as lit­tle state in­ter­ven­tion as we can. The ef­fect of the new Gov­ern­ment’s regional eco­nomic port­fo­lio will be in­ter­est­ing,” he says.

The new Gov­ern­ment will be re­duc­ing the num­bers of im­mi­grants which could have fall­out for the in­dus­try.

Alan is lead­ing the charge to­ward achiev­ing an ex­port goal of $1-bil­lion dol­lars by 2022. Af­ter the 2016 sea­son, the in­dus­try was bullish about achiev­ing this ahead of tar­get. “We still think we will make the tar­get ahead of sched­ule, by 2020,” he says.

T&G FOODS FOR SALE

T&G has no­ti­fied its in­ten­tion to sell its juice pro­cess­ing plant, T&G Foods, in Hast­ings. The juic­ing plant was first built by the New Zealand Ap­ple and Pear Board in 1962 to pro­vide an av­enue for process fruit. In an ear­lier an­nounce­ment, T&G chief ex­ec­u­tive Alas­tair Hul­bert said they are look­ing for an owner fo­cused on fruit pro­cess­ing who is will­ing to in­vest for the long term. Rea­sons for the sale in­cluded a re­duc­tion in vol­ume of fruit to process, and de­clin­ing world­wide prices for ap­ple juice con­cen­trate.

T&G Foods has the ca­pac­ity to process up to 200,000 met­ric tonnes of ap­ples and other fruit at its two man­u­fac­tur­ing sites, one in each of Hast­ings and Nel­son. The busi­ness pro­cesses ap­ples into ap­ple juice and has also di­ver­si­fied into the pro­duc­tion of higher mar­gin fruit in­gre­di­ent prod­ucts in­clud­ing diced ap­ple for the food ser­vices in­dus­try, ap­ple sauce in bulk and small for­mat pouches for re­tail con­sumers.

Sun­fruit Or­chards will be com­mis­sion­ing an in­no­va­tive new pack­ing fa­cil­ity in Hast­ings for the 2018 pack­ing sea­son ca­pa­ble of pro­cess­ing up to 100,000 bins.

Com­mis­sion­ing is ex­pected to take place by a Fe­bru­ary 1 start date, and in the first sea­son will be set up to process 50,000 bins of fruit.

Com­pany prin­ci­pals Tim and fa­ther John Altham have adopted a new ap­proach, with a Dutch pack­ing sys­tem in­stalled by Greefa. To meet their needs for lo­cal mar­ket and ex­port pack­ing, the new pack­ing line will adopt a Euro­pean con­cept of “just-in-time” pack­ing.

Tim says the key con­cept is to have fruit in the car­ton for as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble. “We aim for a gen­eral turn­around for a packed car­ton of a max­i­mum of 10 days be­fore it reaches a con­tainer; we want to take re-pack­ing out of the equa­tion,” he says.

The pair have spent three years look­ing at pack­ing sys­tems in the US, Italy, Hol­land, France and Aus­tralia be­fore opt­ing for the Greefa sys­tem. John par­tic­u­larly liked the fruit-han­dling at­tributes; fruit is moved in wa­ter, and the num­ber of brushes is min­imised; fruit is let down gen­tly where height changes are needed.

Fruit be­gins its jour­ney at the ap­ple dump, trav­els through the high-pres­sure ap­ple washer, then pre-sorted fruit is cool­stored un­til it runs through the pack­ing ta­bles. Un­like a tra­di­tional pack­ing shed where mul­ti­ple sizes are sorted and packed into car­tons, bins will be of just one pack size to stream­line the op­er­a­tion. This fea­ture guar­an­tees fruit will re­main in car­tons for only a short time prior to be­ing shipped for sale.

The sys­tem is de­signed to run at an even speed, to en­sure ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tion. “We ex­pect a higher skill level from staff, it will be more about com­puter op­er­a­tion,” John says. Au­to­matic pack­ers have not been in­stalled on the pack­ing line, but pro­vi­sion has been made to in­stall these as tech­nol­ogy and pro­cess­ing speed of au­to­mated pack­ers im­proves.

Cool­stores will be added to the green­field site in Iron­gate Rd, south of Hast­ings.

Sun­fruit, through its mar­ket­ing brand Pick­mee, sup­plies 30 per cent of its packed ap­ples to New Zealand su­per­mar­kets, and 70 per cent is ex­ported. Sun­fruit runs 450 hectares of or­chards in Hawke’s Bay, and 100 hectares in the Waikato.

Tim is a third gen­er­a­tion fruit­grower, his grand­fa­ther be­gan or­chard­ing in the Waikato in 1933. Their orig­i­nal Waikato pack­house at Rukahia in the Waikato will con­tinue to pack 15,000 bins. It will be up­graded to a Greefa pack­ing sys­tem in the fu­ture.

John, who was a New Zealand Ap­ple and Pear Mar­ket­ing Board direc­tor for nine years, sees the pipfruit mar­ket has come a long way since dereg­u­la­tion in 2001. It has moved from 98 ex­porters sell­ing Royal Gala and Brae­burn, to a far more di­verse in­dus­try with 20 or so main play­ers and some smaller par­tic­i­pants.

Asian mar­kets are far more di­verse, and the in­dus­try has ma­tured a great deal over the last decade. Sun­fruit focus on their own suite of va­ri­eties – Kiku, a high colour Fuji, Pink Lady, Gal­axy and Pa­cific Queen are im­por­tant va­ri­eties to the busi­ness.

This year in par­tic­u­lar has demon­strated a dif­fer­ent mar­ket­ing pat­tern for the in­dus­try. In Week 42 this year, 21,000 tonnes of ap­ples have been ex­ported. In 2016, this fig­ure was just

1000 tonnes.

Alas­tair Hul­bert: Juic­ing plant for sale be­cause fewer ap­ples are avail­able for pro­cess­ing.

Tim (left) and John Altham in front of their Hast­ings pack­house de­vel­op­ment. Fur­ther ca­pac­ity will be added in the Nel­son re­gion with Golden Bay Fruit Pack­ers de­vel­op­ing a green­fields site in Motueka which will be ready for the 2019 sea­son.

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