Apples and wine

30.11.2018

By Robin Rose

Driving down the east coast of New Zealand takes you through a wide array of land types and farming, including stone fruit, wine grapes, top fruit, dairy and livestock. From Te Puke, in the north, we headed down via Gisborne, where Captain Cook first made shore in 1769, to the Art Deco town of Napier.

Whilst dairy is by far the dominant sector in New Zealand (they have 5 million dairy cows, just over one per head of population), exports of wine, kiwi fruit and apples dominate New Zealand’s horticultural exports. Wine provides over NZ$ 1,500 million to the New Zealand economy, and its 396,000 tonnes of wine grapes harvested include over 285,000 of the sauvignon blanc grape for which New Zealand has become so famous.

Apples are another great triumph for the country which exported 343,000 tonnes in 2017, from 9,535ha planted. The best of the apples produced are exported, 36% to Asia and 24% to continental Europe. The biggest variety exported is Royal Gala.

We went to visit Mr Apple today, a publicly listed company growing 1,200ha of apples. The business is 15% owned by the Chinese, which is quite common for agri-businesses according to our host, because it helps these businesses export to China, now a crucial market to New Zealand. We met Tony Waites who is one of 15 orchard managers for the group, his is Blythe Orchard. The have three packhouses, numerous cold stores which when full holds 140,000 bins. The group markets its own fruit.

In each of the orchards there are about 700ha in Napier and Hastings and 500ha in Hawkes Bay at higher elevations, this spreads the harvest dates for the group. Tony described Hawkes Bay as the jewel in the crown of apple growing areas, with high levels of sunshine, growing on an alluvial plain and abundant ground water for irrigation. Whilst farmers have to account for every drop they abstract, there is still no abstraction fees for water, but most of the farmers we have visited suggested that this would change.

Like in the UK, there is a massive labour issue in New Zealand for production businesses, with most of the reliable workers coming from the Pacific Islands, where there is no work and no welfare state. New Zealand has an initiative called the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme. There are 100 Polynesian people at Blythe, and Mr Apple has to house them, feed them and provide vehicles for their use. Tony said they do most of the thinning, pruning and harvest. The whole group employs around 1200, but could do with half again.

Tony described these workers as reliable, very good humoured people prepared to put in the hours. They are important for the local economy, buying many goods before they leave for home, such as building material and bulk food, whilst also investing back into the Polynesian Islands (Samoa, Tonga etc.), something that New Zealand also contributes to directly .

We are nearing the end of the North Island leg of our Innovation Tour, from this weekend we will be in the South Island to learn about New Zealand’s arable, sheep and deer sectors. Stay tuned!!

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