NZ: South Island kiwifruit growers upbeat on 2012 returns

Featured Top Stories Today's Headline
NZ: South Island kiwifruit growers upbeat on 2012 returns

After devastation to New Zealand’s North Island kiwifruit by vine disease Psa, South Island growers feel confident that returns will be up this year.

Growers in Nelson, in the northern end of the South Island, are also taking extra precautions to make sure the vine disease does not spread to their still unaffected fruit.

Grower, packhouse and Nelson representative to New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. (NZKGI) Evan Heywood, says high demand and low supply volume is a potential risk for bringing Psa to the South Island.

"It could be a bit of a problem because it puts pressure on people looking to get plants out of the North Island," he says.

"But we’re not interested. There’s too much at risk; they need to get their plants out of Nelson, so we’re just trying to facilitate that happening."

Heywood and the Psa Nelson Regional Committee have been emphasizing an embargo on plant material, pollen and grafting wood to people heading from the North Island.

He says there is no reason for the plants to be brought in because Nelson is self-sufficient with goods like pollen.

"If groups from the Tauranga, Te Puke area are struggling to find work, they may come down here to do some contract pruning in the wintertime and potentially bring in infected pruning equipment.

Kiwifruit marketer Zespri has gone from last year's 30 million trays of the hort16A gold variety to about 20 million trays exported this year. The standard green Hayward variety is also down about 10 million trays.

"People expect a lift price there - Japan is our highest paying market and there might be a bit of scarcity value kicking in as well, but that’s still to be seen.

He says Zespri has good foreign exchange cover in place to protect growers against the strengthening New Zealand dollar, at least for this season.

"It may diminish as we go forward if the dollar doesn’t weaken against major trading partners."

Although the gold varieties are the worst affected by the Psa disease in the North Island, the variety is healthy in Nelson and the South Island, where growers are steadily switching from the standard Hayward kiwifruit.

Last year, Heywood Orchards did about 3.5 million trays of green and around 400,000 trays of gold.

"With the traditional Hayward variety, we do struggle in terms of production compared with, say, anywhere in the Bay of Plenty, especially around Te Puke, that can do around 10,000-12,000 trays a hectare, no problem," says Heywood.

"Year-on-year average, Nelson sits around 6,000. So we really struggle with Hayward and I think growers are fed up with it and are changing over to gold, hort16A, and more so now with G3 and G9, especially G3."

After a wet February, weather has generally been sunny and dry for March and April in the Nelson region, which has helped fruit size. South Island kiwifruit growers expect a size of about 33.5 pieces of fruit per tray.

Like the apples grown this season on the same orchards, the kiwifruit is maturing about seven to 10 days later than last year, but Heywood says he is comfortable with the results.

"We were about 90% black seeds at the same time last year. We’re still at around 30% black seeds, so we’re definitely later than last year. I don’t think it's a big problem."

Most of the Nelson's kiwifruit goes toward Zespri exports, with pack out anywhere from 75% to 90%.

With the number of trays down, it will at the least be a very manageable season – quicker and cleaner – for most South Island kiwifruit growers, provided Psa does not spread to their island.

Subscribe to our newsletter