Grow­ers of high qual­ity fruit trees

The Orchardist - - >>News -

This will more than dou­ble the area al­ready in cher­ries.

Funded by the New Zealand Fruit­grow­ers Char­i­ta­ble Trust, Cen­tral Otago Wine­grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, Sea­sonal So­lu­tions Co­op­er­a­tive Ltd, Im­mi­gra­tion New Zealand and Cen­tral Otago District Coun­cil, the sur­vey in­ter­viewed or­chardist and vine­yard own­ers and re­ported the 56 per­cent in­crease on cur­rent plant­ings could be fur­ther added to with fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies un­der way to de­velop an­other 495ha of cher­ries.

More than three-quar­ters of the new cherry plant­ings the sur­vey found were planned for near Cromwell, Tar­ras, Ban­nock­burn and Lindis, 10 per­cent at Alexan­dra and the fi­nal four per­cent for the Te­viot Val­ley.

Land suit­able for cher­ries of­ten gets snapped up be­fore it even gets ad­ver­tised, Cromwell PGG Wright­son Real Es­tate branch man­ager Neil Bulling said.

A mix of dif­fer­ent buy­ers was will­ing to pay about $100,000/ ha for bare land able to grow cher­ries. They ranged from cashed-up arable and stock farm­ers in their 50s want­ing a life­style change to over­seas in­vestors. Com­mer­cially pro­duc­ing or­chards in the area were also hot prop­erty.

He said there was lit­tle bare land left suit­able in Cen­tral but there was some still above Queens­berry, al­though the higher al­ti­tude and its prox­im­ity to the West Coast and sum­mer rain made it less vi­able.

Avail­abil­ity of wa­ter was crit­i­cal for suc­cess with sev­eral schemes in the area close to their lim­its.

“Peo­ple are af­ter the re­turns per hectare and they are there if you do it right but you have to do your home­work be­fore buy­ing,” he said.

“Ev­ery­one thinks it’s easy but it’s not.” Bulling and his wife grew cher­ries on 4ha for about 14 years but re­cently sold their or­chard.

“We loved do­ing it but now we’re do­ing dif­fer­ent things,” he said.

“You have to have a min­i­mum of 3ha to make it worth­while, to make a de­cent in­come.”

He said the quick cy­cle of cher­ries – they bloom in Oc­to­ber and by the end of Jan­uary/start of Fe­bru­ary are in Asia for Chi­nese New Year – at­tracted many peo­ple.

Some or­chardists were now us­ing wires to train cherry trees while oth­ers were still grow­ing them tra­di­tion­ally as cen­tral lead­ers.

“We should see the re­sults this sum­mer be­cause the first of the trees on wires should be com­ing into crop.”

Farm­lands Real Es­tate Cen­tral Otago agent Dave Var­ney likened it to ki­wifruit in the 1980s.

“Cher­ries seem to be the flavour of the day.”

He had had en­quiries from a range of peo­ple want­ing land for cherry grow­ing, from pri­vate peo­ple to a group of Chi­nese in­vestors last year.

“It seems to be the re­turns from the in­vest­ment, the ex­port mar­ket for the fruit, that’s driv­ing it.”

Sum­mer­fruit chief ex­ec­u­tive, Marie Dawkins said it wasn’t just New Zealand that was fo­cus­ing on cher­ries.

“It’s world­wide for sweet cher­ries,” she said.

“Chile and other coun­tries are ex­pand­ing their or­chards too and we still can’t meet the de­mand from Asia, par­tic­u­larly China.”

In the 2017-2018 sea­son, the mar­ket value of cher­ries grown in NZ was $93 mil­lion ($84m for ex­ported fruit), with nec­tarines a dis­tant sec­ond at al­most $10m. About 4000 tonnes were ex­ported while 10 years ago it was about 1000t. The biggest buy­ers of our cher­ries are China and Tai­wan, both tak­ing more than 1000t of the fruit each, with Thai­land 500t.

“We’re telling grow­ers to bud­get at the mo­ment on $2.50/kg for peaches and nec­tarines and about $10/kg for cher­ries and that’s be­ing quite con­ser­va­tive for cher­ries,” Dawkins said.

But she cau­tioned the fruit was high risk.

“It is a rapid grow­ing crop so if you have frosts like you did last week (in mid-Oc­to­ber), or rain in the sum­mer you can lose a big chunk of your crop.”

A re­port In­vest­ment Op­por­tu­ni­ties in the New Zealand Cherry In­dus­try was re­leased in March and has fur­ther fu­elled in­vestor in­ter­est, she said.Com­mis­sioned by the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment (MBIE) and pre­pared by Co­ri­o­lis, it iden­ti­fied the close prox­im­ity and ac­cess to the East and South-East Asian mar­kets as key to NZ’s cherry suc­cess.

Only Chile, Ar­gentina, South Africa and Aus­tralia are able to com­pete with NZ pro­duc­ing cher­ries for Chi­nese New Year. How­ever, grow­ing pro­duc­tion, es­pe­cially in Chile where in­fra­struc­ture costs per hectare were lower, was a threat, the re­port said.

Some of the rea­sons lim­it­ing the amount of cher­ries we ex­port were the lack of land avail­abil­ity, low yields per hectare, pack­house in­ef­fi­cien­cies and the need to im­prove the shelf life of the fruit. The grower of 90- 95 per­cent of NZ’s trees likened the in­dus­try to driv­ing a car.

“We’ve been cruis­ing along nicely in first gear through the 1990s and 2000s and now we’re in sec­ond with the foot

hard to the floor,” Andy McGrath of McGrath Nurs­eries said.

He’s stepped up pro­duc­tion at his Hamil­ton nurs­ery more than 400 per­cent in the past few years to meet de­mand. The cost of pro­duc­ing trees is high and pre­dict­ing de­mand dif­fi­cult so in a multi-mil­lion dol­lar busi­ness he’s cau­tious – want­ing to pro­duce trees to or­der in­stead of spec­u­la­tion.

How­ever, that means a two-year wait for buy­ers. The root­stocks he planted in Au­gust and Septem­ber this year will be de­liv­ered to or­chards in May and June 2020.

“There are ways to short­cut the process but they don’t pro­duce the high qual­ity trees that we want to,” he said. “Peo­ple have to re­alise that they just can’t buy land and then ex­pect the trees to be avail­able to plant straight away.

“I do grow spare trees for re­place­ment of tree deaths each year but this is not the many thou­sands that new or­chards need.” He said as well as more land go­ing into cherry or­chards in Cen­tral Otago, im­proved va­ri­eties and plant­ing at in­creased den­si­ties to achieve higher yields was also cre­at­ing more de­mand for young trees. “The ex­port mar­ket is look­ing for larger and harder fruit for ex­port so as new va­ri­eties come onto the mar­ket or­chardists are re­plac­ing older trees. As well, cherry trees only have a cer­tain life. They don’t last for­ever. “Com­pared with the rest of the world, I say we’re up with the pace with de­vel­op­ing new va­ri­eties.” Pay­ment is made for the trees in in­stall­ments once an or­der is placed. The in­creased de­mand has seen McGrath em­ploy more staff, se­cure more land and con­tinue to look for new va­ri­eties that would be suited to Cen­tral Otago and other re­gions. “I’m pas­sion­ate about cher­ries and I think the cur­rent growth is sus­tain­able,” he said. “If you plant the trees you can be rea­son­ably cer­tain that you will make money.”

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