Kiwi fruit, salads and sheep

29.11.2018

By Scott Milne

Horticulture is a vital sector to New Zealand, accounting for $8.8 billion in exports to 128 countries, including NZ$2.65 million in fruit sales, NZ$1.7 million in processed fruit (e.g. juices), NZ$251 in fresh vegetables and NZ$366 billion in processed vegetables.

Kiwi fruit is going through a particular boom and was worth NZ$1.66 billion in 2017, exporting to more than 50 countries, 41% above 2015. Japan imports were worth NZ$381 million, China’s NZ$365 million and Europe NZ$422 million. A report by the University of Waikato predicts that the kiwi fruit industry could be worth NZ$6.4 billion in 2030, driven by Zespri SunGold, a licenced variety that businesses have to bid for to grow.

The latest Innovation Tour visit was to EastPack, just outside Te Puke, they grow both SunGold and green varieties, and have seen massive growth in their SunGold sales, rising from 100 million trays a few years ago, to 145 million now. All of the sales for kiwi fruit are run through Zespro, a government organisation.

Like any crop, kiwi fruit growers have their challenges – some are familiar to UK growers, like the difficulties recruiting labour and the loss of active ingredients, others are less-so, for example the pseudamonis infection that arrived in 2010 from Italy, which devastated the kiwi fruit industry. They have found ways to keep on top of the disease by a range of cultural and chemical means.

From EastPack we took to the road south to Leaderbrand, just outside Gisborne. The company specialises in growing buttercup squash for the Asian market, lettuce, sweetcorn, kiwi fruit and wine grapes and processing for other businesses.

Leaderbrand exports to a number of countries, and grows on relatively heavy clays, which can be a challenge to cultivate, but they retain moisture. On a lot of the land, three crops are grown per year usually starting with buttercup squash, then on to barley which is grazed by fattening lambs and then on to lettuce. The fact that all the farmers loved was that Leaderbrand has the largest fleet of John Deere tractors in the southern hemisphere.

Leaderbrand adds value to their produce, for example by plastic sealing sweetcorn to give it a shelf life  of up to 15 months and bagging lettuce.

Like EastPack, access to labour is a big issue.

The fruit and fresh produce businesses that we’ve seen this week demonstrate how important strong supply chain partnerships are to an exporting nation, something we may need to learn from in the future (no one say the ‘B’ word).

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