NZ bumper avocado crop needs new markets
With global avocado consumption on the rise, New Zealand could find new opportunities with the fruit as an important export product. The country passes the test when it comes to fruit size, and is in the middle of harvesting what is set to be its largest ever annual volumes.
The New Zealand Avocado Industry Council expects a record export crop of 3.4 million trays this season.
Council chairperson Jen Scoular has told www.freshfruitportal.com the increased avocado quantities are complemented by a fruit that is physically larger than in other countries.
"We will have larger fruit than both the Australians and Mexicans," she says.
Seeka general manager of grower relations and corporate marketing Peter Mourits, says his company will pack five times the amount of fruit they did last year.
Team Avocado export director Alistair Young has seen a similar trend.
"Maturity levels have been late in the Bay of Plenty which has caused a staggered, slower season than what we would have liked. But we’re now clear of that and we have been at full throttle for weeks," he says.
While 90% of last year's avocado exports went to Australia, Scoular says there is growing awareness of other markets.
"There’s been recognition of that. We had an estimate in June, we’re working closely with the 11 exporters to look at other markets that have been developed, but we’ve always been short on supply.
She hopes to get 25% of volumes going to countries other than Australia, while there are programs underway to ship avocadoes to the U.S., Japan and other parts of Asia.
For Young it is an 'absolute requirement' to export to other markets.
"Australia will always be a strong part of our market but and we need to diversify so that we don’t over supply that market."
Mourits adds that while Seeka supplies one of Australia's key retailers, the company now has a distributor in Japan.
"We’re send reasonable amounts up to Japan. (Asian markets) are increasingly important now, although they’ve historically sought their fruit from Mexico and South America."
Relief from kiwifruit woes?
A recent grower survey showed 22% of New Zealand avocado growers also have kiwifruit.
Scoular says the potential for this season’s crop is a real asset in light of what the kiwifruit industry are going through.
"The potential for avocados is very positive and they can grow on land affected by Psa (disease). Provided we get decent returns from this year’s crop it is positive in a season where kiwifruit are severely affected.
Despite acknowledging the positives of avocadoes, Scoular is reluctant to say growers will likely to shift to the crop from kiwifruit.
"We’ve had a few enquires about it and our growers representatives on the board are talking around it, it’s in people’s heads."
Mourits says that while Seeka accounts for 25% of New Zealand's kiwifruit crop and focuses the majority of its business on the crop, the company has been able to shift some resources from the kiwifruit business to avocado operations. However, this has not prevented the company from being forced to make redundancies in their kiwifruit operations team.
"The boom is not enough to set off the impact of Psa but the company is doing what it can to resource appropriately and have a good financial year."
Scoular says more generally the boom has had a positive flow on effect for jobs. Since the forecasts came out in June the council has been working with the packer forum in New Zealand to ensure labor supply.
"Quite a number of orchards are picked three times, after the first pick, you do a deeper pick and then a final pick. In terms of jobs there - it will be a challenge to make sure there are enough harvesters."
Scoular says while the value is in fresh fruit export and 60% of fruit will be export grade, blemished fruit still can go into oil and processing.
"The main (avocado) players have an 80% less share here - they're getting some real success in offshore markets and we true and ensure some good planning with the companies so they are aware of what volumes are available.
With such a grand increase in fruit, it makes sense for the avocado industry to consider all its options. On the production side, Scoular says the industry is also trying to tackle the issue of alternate bearing.
"It’s one of the challenges we are aware of, it impacts the Bay of Plenty more than the north. The growers are continually looking at solutions to alternate bearing; we’ve started a pruning trial with 19 orchards involved."
Young says alternate bearing still has a strong part to play in the recent boom, and while it is too early to be specific, the flower count for next season seems to be lower.
Mourits says alternate bearing is an issue his company hopes to minimize through good tree pruning and increasing market share to offset the limitations of smaller crops.
"We run field days where husbandry is a key program, we have one staff member with a doctorate in plant physiology now, Jonathan Cutting. He gets out and talks to growers," he says.
Photo: Avocado Industry Council