El Niño causes NZ feijoa glut, claims Southern Belle Orchard
Markets have been consistent for the niche fruit but two developments are needed for long-term growth - better shelf life and consumer education.
It has been a "funny" season for New Zealand feijoas this year but markets have held up and work continues on market development and improved protocols, according to one of the country's leading growers.
Frans de Jong of Southern Belle Orchard told www.freshfruitportal.com the campaign was going well but would finish sooner than normal as late orchards came on early and early orchards came on late.
"For us we started halfway through March which for us is quite usual but we’ll probably carry on until the end of May with the varieties we have, and in other places they had a very fast and brief season," he said, adding the season usually ran until mid-June.
"In other places there’s quite a bit of fruit but it still seems to be finishing quite soon as well with all the varieties coming together.
"The market has been consistently good from mid-March to mid-April, but now we’re definitely in a glut so we do have a bit of a local market dip. But I don’t expect that to last longer than one or two weeks."
Southern Belle tries to export around half its crop, and de Jong is a director on the board of a joint branding initiative formed last year called Zeijoa.
"We try to really get organized because at the moment still being a small industry we find it is time to join up and start working together, or else we’re just going to beat each other on the other side because we’ve got a tiny bit of fruit, and that’s not necessary.
"We have licensed exporters for us and we have a good connection in Australia on the East Coast – we do a lot of Zeijoas in the Asian markets and there’s also a little bit going out to the United States; that’s just a trickle at the moment but we’re trying to develop that one as well," he said, adding the main markets were Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.
"Looking at the official import of feijoas in China it’s not possible for New Zealand because we have to go through a negotiation to get access into China, and that’s a long way away."
"We're trying to get a longer shelf life and one of the things there is that a feijoa doesn’t seem to react to SmartFresh or any other gas, ethylene depletion," de Jong said.
"So we need to have another technique to get that shelf life extended, but we’re working on that with different organizations like Massey University and Plant & Food Research."
He described the harvesting process as complicated as well, requiring a labor-intensive process if the fruit is to reach its potential of four to five weeks' shelf life.
"It starts from the beginning by touch-picking the fruit, which means you take the fruit when the jelly section of the feijoa is just starting to clear," he said.
"It's a very finicky technique because you can’t see it on the collar – it takes people who have to learn picking about two weeks to get up to speed.
"At our farm we have 3.5 hectares of feijoas, we employ 10-15 people in the field and another four or five in the packhouse."
He said the hope was that new storage techniques could be established to lengthen the shelf life by an extra two or three weeks.
"We don’t need more than that, but let’s say we get a shelf life from picking to eating of six to seven weeks, we can ship that fruit and it would make a huge difference.
"So the emphasis has to be on that, and in the meantime of course there's biosecurity - it's quite confined, so we work on that as well with different techniques.
"At the moment every single fruit is blasted with an air gun one by one to get rid of the insects – that’s why we have so many people involved because it takes a lot of time to go through the biosecurity of different countries.
De Jong also points to consumer education as an important driver for future growth, with the belief that under the right conditions feijoas could be "as big as kiwifruit".
"The feijoa has a bit of tartness and also sweetness to it – there is also a taste which is a combination of watermelon, strawberries, pineapple, so it is a very new taste," he said.
"The best thing to do is really is to slice them in half and scoop them out like a kiwifruit. You can also quarter it and eat the flesh out of the skin.
"When you start cooking it there are nice things you can do as a dessert which are very simple – you just cut them in half, rub a little bit of icing sugar on it and turn them upside down in an eggshell and then take a crème brulee burner, caramelize the top of the feijoa and then scoop it out. It’s just beautiful."
Guava moth threat
De Jong added the guava moth was becoming more of an issue for growers in the country's north, which was an issue reported on this week by Radio New Zealand.
"The north especially has had a bad run on the guava moth which is new, but it’s already been there for 20 years," he said.
"So there's a new threat in the industry as well."
Grower Peter Jack told the broadcaster the moth was typically found in the subtropical climates of Auckland and Northland, but the disease was now in Waikato and could survive as far south as Nelson.
"There's not enough research done on it that if it does become a really big issue, to combat it," Jack was quoted as saying.
"That's why we are getting a bit of publicity, to see if we can actually get some funding to see if we can find something out there we can control it with - whether it is a predator, an insecticide, or a lure and kill pheromone."