Pipfruit NZ forecasts growth in India, Australia this year
New Zealand almost doubled its apple exports to India last season while it gained access to the Australian market in August. Outgoing Pipfruit New Zealand CEO says both these destination markets are set to grow in 2012, but his country's production is likely to be down. He tells www.freshfruitportal.com that all Southern Hemisphere growers will need to be careful about how they send volumes to Europe when exports kicks off in February, with the market posing challenges.
While Beaven himself is about to retire, he says the industry is set for more of the same in 2012; a high exchange rate, slow rotation for some varieties, difficult conditions in main markets and Asian growth.
"The exchange rate continues to haunt us and it’s obviously going to be challenging this coming year. There’s some risk of an overhang of the Braeburn crop - some varieties are relatively slow moving and aren't clearing as fast as we'd like to see, but it's still early days of course," he says.
"Asia is looking promising – we’ve had good enquiry to our exporters in markets such as China and India, so it’s something of a continuation of last year.
"Certainly, Galas and Braeburns in Europe are under some pressure as we speak - what’s tending to happen is that there’s a week of good sales followed by a week of poor sales and it’s becoming quite a price sensitive market given the economic conditions in Europe."
He says that Chile and Argentina will likely ship to Europe first and New Zealand will follow, opting to send its earlier volumes to Asia to avoid too much overlap.
"The lucky thing about Europe is that most of our supplies go to Germany, and I guess Germany is a bit of a shining beacon when you compare with other parts of Europe which are probably struggling much more economically.
"But it’s still going to be a challenging year, and the whole of the Southern Hemisphere needs to take some care with the volume of the fruit that it sends."
Asia-Pacific market growth
India was a success story for New Zealand apples last year, with exports jumping in volume from around 340,000 cases to 650,000, making it the thid-largest market destination in Asia behind Taiwan and China. Beaven expects the market will grow further this year.
"I think there were probably a couple of factors. The Indian crop has been relatively short and it looks like it will be again this year.
"Their growing region is in the far north of India in the foothills of the Himalayas, and their distribution systems south are really inefficient, and the level of cold storage they have available means that they can’t store their crop for any length of time, so it means that the market is open to Southern Hemisphere supply to a large degree.
"Of course you’ve got other factors like increasing wealth and the growth of western style supermarkets, which helps for the placement of premium products there."
As for Australia, which opened its apple market to the trans-Tasman neighbor after 90 of disputes, Beaven expects a much larger volume this year.
"There was actually only a few consignments of fruit sent to Australia last year. We really used it as an opportunity to test the work plan and the systems, and establish relationships - I think the total amount of fruit that went there would have only been 150 (metric) tons of fruit, maybe not even that.
"You see we didn’t get access until late August last year, and of course the harvest is completed mid-April so it was only a small amount of fruit that was being stored in New Zealand that was available to send there.
"But it's different this season as we’ve got a full growing season under our belts now, and growers have had the opportunity to grow their crops with Australia in mind and meeting the access conditions that are required for Australia, so my expectation is that we’ll see quite a bit more fruit go this year than we saw last."
Lower flowering should lead to reduced New Zealand apple volumes
Last year New Zealand shipped 16.9 million cases but Beaven says plant issues have meant the figure will be down this season.
"It’s to do with the fact the trees tend to be slightly bi-annually bearing and a few have been removed. It was a bit of a scattered flowering, it wasn’t a full flowering, so the fruit set a little bit lower than last year. It’s nature at work," he says.
"t’s certainly been quite a challenging season, we’ve had quite a bit of rain. It hasn’t been particularly warm, it started late, the flowering was later than normal, so certainly there’s been some challenges but every year there are challenges with growing, so our guys expect to have to deal with unforeseen events.
"There hasn’t been any hail really since the fruit set, and the bouts of rain we’ve had since Christmas have probably been more beneficial than anything else because it means people don’t have to irrigate."
However, Beaven is cognizant that weather issues can always change forecasts in horticulture, as occured recently with Brazil's apple industry, which was on track for a record crop in terms of quality but then its hopes were dashed by hail damage.
"It’s a dicey business and you should never count your crop until you’ve got it off the tree and it’s sitting in a cool store," says Beaven.
"Brazil is probably more susceptible than any other growing area I can think of to those changes in weather conditions, because they grow n elevated areas and that’s where you’ll tend to get that variability."
Pipfruit NZ is currently in the process of interviewing shortlisted candidates for Beaven's position as he goes into retirement.
"I’ve been here seven years now, I’ve found it a very interesting and challenging job, I’ve made a lot of friends in the industry. There are still lots of challenges ahead, in fact every day there seems to be new challenges - horticulture in New Zealand in general is challenged by the exchange rate, production issues, market access issues. They’re all ongoing battles that we’ll continue to fight."