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New Zealand pipfruit crop hailed as 'best this decade'

by Lora Abcarian | May 17, 2009
Conditions could not be better for this year's pipfruit crop from New Zealand. Peter Beaven, chief executive of Pipfruit New Zealand, is enthusiastic about this year's prospects.

"The quality of the fruit is the best this decade: clean finish, good pressures and high Brix. The fruit is eating very well and compares very favorably with other Southern Hemisphere quality," he told The Produce News in early May. "This was an excellent growing season in all parts of New Zealand. [There were] no adverse weather events."

New Zealand exports apples and pears annually to 60 countries around the globe. The European Union and the United States are the largest receivers. Pipfruit exports from the country account for more than $500 million in foreign exchange earnings for the national economy.

"The harvest is all but completed now," Mr. Beaven said. "Thanks to the [Recognized Seasonal Employer] scheme -- introduced to allow Pacific Island workers to come to New Zealand for the harvest of apples, kiwifruit and grapes -- we have found sufficient workers to complete harvest with the fruit in optimum condition. This year, there were 8,000 workers in New Zealand for the harvest, of whom nearly 4,000 were in the pipfruit industry. The workers are paid the same wages as New Zealand workers, and in just two seasons have become a cornerstone of our harvest requirements. The situation is a win-win because unemployment levels in some Pacific Islands are up to 90 percent, and the money they earn in New Zealand goes directly back to the villages they come from to build community projects such as schools and other community facilities."

According to Mr. Beaven, the preseason estimate is for 17.2 million cases (309,000 tons) of high-quality apples and pears. "This represents an increase of about 17 percent [compared to 2008]," he said. Land in production has remained relatively stable at just under 9,000 hectares. Hawke's Bay accounts for the largest percentage of production, with 63 percent of the 2009 crop coming from the region. Production in Nelson accounts for 30 percent of the national crop. The areas of Gisborne, Waikato and Wairarapa contribute the balance of product.

"Braeburn and Royal Gala are 64 percent of export production but only 52 percent by area," Mr. Beaven said. "This is because replacement varieties are not yet in full production." Land in apple production for the Cox and Braeburn varieties is down when compared to 2008. He added that production land for Cripps Pink and Jazz has increased.

Royal Gala will comprise 34 percent of the coming apple export crop, with Braeburn volume coming in at 30 percent. "Collectively, they make up 64 percent of exports," Mr. Beaven said. "But earlier this decade, they were 75 percent. So we are seeing a gradual change." The other significant varieties for which Mr. Beaven provided data were the Fuji at 10 percent; Jazz at 7 percent; trademarked Pink Lady at 3 percent; and Cox at 3 percent.

He said that New Zealand continues to solidify its commitment to reducing pesticide residue levels. "The Apple Futures project, which targets residue levels of less than 10 percent of European [maximum residue levels] is now in its second year, and already 50 percent of our orchards have adopted it, with another 10 percent being organic producers. We have conducted over 600 residue tests so far with outstanding results. Almost all tests have shown results down at the limits of detection."

Pear exports, coming in at approximately 5,700 tons, will account for approximately 2 percent of total pipfruit exports in 2009. "More than 50 percent of the volume goes to the United States of America," Mr. Beaven stated. As is true with apples, pear volume increased in 2009 when compared to 2008.

(For more on New Zealand fruit, see the May 18 issue of The Produce News.)