NZ: JV to begin planting Australian-bred jumbo blueberries

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NZ: JV to begin planting Australian-bred jumbo blueberries

A joint venture in New Zealand is to begin planting dozens of hectares of blueberry cultivars bred by Australia's Mountain Blue Orchards, including the jumbo-sized Eureka variety. 

BerryCo, which was established by New Zealand's Southern Produce and Australia's Valleyfresh, acquired the rights to the genetics in 2015, and now plans to revamp the country's variety mix.

Speaking to Fresh Fruit Portal, Valleyfresh group CEO Murray McCallum said 80 hectares of Mountain Blue's blueberry varieties were due to be planted over the next three years.

"The varieties have just come though the quarantine process and we will be starting the first plantings in the autumn, so in the next month or so," he said.

"We’ll probably get small production even as of next year, but the first commercial harvest will be in 2019."

The first 40 hectares will be planted over the autumn and spring this year in locations in the Far North District, Waikato and The Bay of Plenty.

Amongst the Mountain Blue cultivars to be planted by BerryCo is the Eureka - a high-yielding fruit with most berries in excess of 18mm in diameter. A 200g punnet can reportedly fetch NZD12.95 (US$9) in Singapore.

McCallum explained all the varieties were sweet and crunchy, and a lot of them would be targeting the early part of the season.

"For the domestic market we believe we’ll have production in that September window when there’s virtually no other production in New Zealand," he said.

"So it will be the domestic market early on and then probably from October and November onwards we will be targeting the  the Asian market and then the Australian market from December."

He said BerryCo would be dove tailing into Mountain Blue's marketing and branding, and would they would work in conjunction to further develop it. 

In addition, the joint venture would have access to breeder's future varieties as they come on stream. 

McCallum also commented that there was a need to 'revolutionize' New Zealand's current blueberry variety mix with new and improved cultivars.

"Most of the growers in New Zealand hold very small plantings, and a lot of the varieties are probably outdated, so it's quite a fragmented industry," he said.

"We’ve been in the blueberry export game for a long time and we saw the need to update and revolutionize the New Zealand varieties - that’s what our interest was. We have a lot of growers who have been working with us for quite some time and a lot of those growers will be taking on these varieties as well."

Eureka discovery a "breakthrough moment"

Mountain Blue managing director Andrew Bell said the Eureka variety initially came from a seedling and was selected for further trials in 2008. He described the discovery as a "breakthrough" moment for the company.

"Eureka was the original variety that kick started our program, and we now have a suite of varieties that we’ve released. The Eureka was a step change in terms of blueberry genetics," he said, adding consumer response had been "fantastic".

"We aim for size, crunch, flavor - a whole range of characteristics and really have a whole suite of varieties that are similar to the Eureka."

He said Mountain Blue had 'significant' plantings of the Eureka variety, which were complemented by production from a network of third-party growers. 

The majority of the volumes stay in the Australian market, with Asia being the main export market.

"Considering that we don't have access to China or Japan at the moment, a lot of the fruit goes to Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and we put a lot of time into developing other markets such as Indonesia," he said.

He said while there were plans to increase production in the future, for now a primary focus was extending the season in order to provide blueberries year-round.


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