Propagators keep pace with pressure
A big push from avocado nurseries has seen the wait-time for trees nearly halved.
Recently there had been a waiting list of two years for growers wanting new trees, but nurseries have stepped up production so new orders can generally be filled within a year.
“Because of that, we’re not seeing the delays that we used to,” said Brad Siebert, biosecurity and programme manager for New Zealand Avocado.
“That’s not because demand has diminished – in fact, it is increasing. It’s because nurseries have stepped up their production to meet the needs of the industry.”
For comparison, he spoke to Trevor Dukes of major South African fresh produce company, Univeg, who has been in New Zealand exploring the industry here.
“For certain varieties growers over there are having to wait until 2026,” he said.
“So we’ve got it pretty good.”
In general, the industry is going strong despite the lower volumes harvested in 2017-2018.
In his annual report New Zealand Avocado Growers Association (NZAGA) chair Tony Ponder said even in the face of the low-volume season, growers had seen record orchard gate returns and the industry was “well on track to meet the audacious goals of quadrupling sales and trebling productivity by 2023”.
“With much lower volumes we have seen industry value fall from $200 million in 2016-17 to $152m in 201718, but the growth is not just about market value, but about industry strength and consolidation,” he said.
“It is very pleasing to report that the season in review saw the highest orchard gate returns for avocado growers with per tray returns to the grower setting a new record in our industry. Total volume was only 51 percent of the previous year but overall value only fell 25 percent from 2016-17. The NZ market returned a record $44.3m, with exceptional per tray returns on a lower volume.” Significantly, the industry was working to secure sustainable markets for the coming increase in volumes and this year’s approval of access to China was a milestone, he said.
“There has been a consistent theme emerge from our strategic discussion
about being one industry going in one direction. I believe this has created the platform to support the significant growth the industry has achieved, and gives real strength in our endeavours going forward.”
The increase in industry value has resulted in new plantings, particularly in Northland, where 1000 hectares have been planted in the last three years, adding to the 3800ha currently in production nationally, said NZAGA chief executive Jen Scoular.
“Confidence in the industry is also demonstrated by rising land prices in avocado-growing regions; growing interest in rejuvenating old orchards; and land not previously seen as suitable being developed for avocado production.”
When it came to accessing plants, Scoular said the country’s two large nurseries had done well in increasing their capability, and three more nurseries had sprung up to support the industry. Nursery production has jumped from 30,000 to 200,000 in the last five years. But while wait-times had diminished, demand still outstripped the rate of supply as more land was converted to avocado orchards and existing growers planted more trees.
Though the cyclic bearing habits of many avocado trees did not help the last season it bodes well for the current. As harvest started in August there were national production forecasts of up to 3.5m trays, 1.3m more than the previous season.And as time goes on Te Puke produce company Seeka believes the 2019-2020 release of commercial quantities of its GEM variety, which the Lynwood, Whangarei, and Riversun, Gisborne, nurseries have been licensed to supply, will help smooth out the seasons as it is less prone to alternate bearing.
Meanwhile, opening the New Zealand Avocado International Industry Conference in Tauranga last month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her grandparents’ experience as growers had given her an appreciation of the hard work involved.
“In a very short time we’ve seen the appetite for avocados – a fruit that was not that long ago considered exotic – grow exponentially,” she said.
“That is testament to the passion and dedication of all of you.”