Intense and difficult season for NZ cherries

January 22 , 2018

An “unusual” summer has led to New Zealand’s cherry seasons running three weeks ahead of expectations for many growers, prompting market clashes and quality issues with some of the fruit. 

Graph courtesy of Summerfruit New Zealand.

This is the summary of the 2017-18 campaign from Summerfruit NZ CEO Marie Dawkins, who puts Fresh Fruit Portal in the direction of the latest figures which show exports going straight up much earlier than usual.

“The season started two weeks early and it’s been quite intense heat here, sometimes with 33-34°C (91.4-93.2°F) for two days in a row so it’s meant that the fruit has come on extraordinarily fast and tense,” she says.

“So the whole season is very short. People are probably three weeks ahead of where they were expecting to be at this time of the year so the season is going to be done and dusted in no time at all. 

“That’s probably the dominant feature – the heat has created all sorts of issues around availability of staff and also it’s created some issues in the market with regards to clashing with other material that’s in the market at the same time.”

She clarifies that there has been good fruit in the market, but the season has definitely been difficult.

“The heat has created issues for some cherries, a bit of softness,” she says.

“It’s all just extraordinarily intense. The cherry season is always intense anyway but it’s even more intense than usual.”

The early season has been a common trait across New Zealand’s different stonefruit types, and in the case of apricots its led to a clash with Australian product.

“Our apricots normally arrive in Australia when theirs are finishing at the tail end of their crop, but in fact it’s arriving at the same time to market. And they have a very strong ‘buy Australia first’ so that’s been a challenge for our apricot growers,” she says.

But for cherries, for which New Zealand exports around two-thirds of its crop, the clash has been with Chile. We posited this may have been worse still if the season weren’t early, given the immense volume on its way to China from the South American nation.

“Their volumes are huge now anyway. We’re always competing against large Chilean volumes and we just try very hard to get a very different part of the market; we tend to go for a high-end quality niche as opposed to volume. 

“We’re a small country with small volumes. We’re doing about 3,500 [metric] tons (MT),” she says.

This compares to an excess of 150,000MT in exports expected from Chile this campaign.

“You can’t compete against that. They’re a volume supplier and we’re a niche quality supplier. That’s our target, always has been, because you can’t compete with volume for the sake of volume can you? You’ll just commoditize the product if you do that,” she says.

“There is going to continue to be a lot of Chilean fruit around. It doesn’t help that Chinese New Year is so late.”

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