'Devastating' rain dampens NZ stonefruit hopes

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'Devastating' rain dampens NZ stonefruit hopes

A late season rain has ruined high expectations for New Zealand stonefruit exports this Southern Hemisphere summer, producers have told www.freshfruitportal.com.

Despite ideal growing weather for the first half of the season, New Zealand stonefruit exporters have seen their crops halved by a downpour of 30mm rain on Friday, Jan. 13.

Grower, packhouse manager and exporter Gary Bennetts says the rain in Roxburgh, Central Otago, in the southern area of New Zealand’s South Island, has been devastating.

"We did talk about doing 3,000 metric tons (MT) last year but we had rain events that halved that crop - we ended up with 1,600MT," he says.

"We’re thinking we might be lucky to get 1,500MT this year. In cherries we're thinking we’re going to do less than last year."

Apricots did not fare well in the rain either, with many now going to processing or the local market instead of export.

Most of the cherry exports will be sold to the Asian market, where they are sold at around US$200-250 per 12kg carton, according to Otago exporter 45 South general manager Tim Jones.

"There’s still fruit that goes to Europe," adds Bennetts.

"I believe we’re at an all time high against the euro and we’re quite high against the U.S. dollar, so there’s still a percentage of our crop that goes into those markets.

"But the main concentration of our volume is into the Asian markets."

Jones says 95% of his company's exports will be bound for South East Asia specifically.

"We have a limited opportunity into Europe, simply because of the distance of the market and the niche opportunities for very large, high-value produce, so South East Asia is where it's at."

But with around 40,000 MT of 26-28mm fruit exported to Asia from Chile in the previous couple weeks, it is hard for New Zealand exporters to compete. Instead, New Zealand export opportunities rely on larger, high quality cherries, with 30-34mm fruit put into the export markets.

Second to cherries in export volumes are apricots, mainly sold in the Australian market.

The drop in cherry volumes from Otago comes after another rain incident pre-Christmas with cherry crops in Blenheim, in the northern South Island.

Jones says it has made the “last bit of the season a little bit difficult”.

"We still got plenty of good fruit in the month, it’s just how you deal with it," he adds.

From a market perspective, another challenge will come when the Asian market shuts down for Chinese New Year at the end of the month.

"We’ve got great market opportunities leading up to Chinese New Year - but a lot of those Asian markets are shutting down for five or six days and we have to be able to manage that at this end," says Jones.

45 South expects to export around 500-600MT this year, which is a similar figure to last year. The cherry growing season will mostly be over by the end of January.

Domestic market weather woes

Stonefruit growers who grow for the local New Zealand market have also not been so lucky.

In the North Island’s eastern region, Hawke’s Bay received an extraordinary amount of rain in December, which caused problems for cherry and apricot crops grown for the domestic market.

Hawke’s Bay market manager for Summerfruit New Zealand Emma Logan, says the rain also caused issues for peaches and nectarines, though apricots were the most damaged.

"Apricots are a fairly fragile crop. They really need it nice and hot and dry, but it’s been very wet," she says.

When apricots are wet and it is windy, the flapping leaves on the trees can cause brown marks on the fruit, which can put it out of the market. The stonefruit season was about two weeks late this year in Logan's region, and has been one of the latest seasons on record.

"What that has meant is that the end of the Hawke’s Bay apricots season is colliding with the start of the South Island apricots," she says.

"Actual numbers on the Hawke’s Bay crop were down quite a bit anyway, just because of the nature of the season. A lot of it has had to be graded out."

The lack of sunshine in Hawke’s Bay has meant that the ripening process has been a lot slower, so there have not been massive peaks in volume, but Logan says this is usually the case around the Christmas period.


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