Disrupted kiwifruit harvest soon ends

Last updated 11:31 02/07/2013

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Glynis Ellery will heave a sigh of relief when the last shipment of Nelson kiwifruit sails off to Europe in the next week or so.

For the manager of top of the south co-operative Mainland Growers Entity, it will bring to an end a harvest disrupted by constant rain.

Not only did it delay picking, it meant packhouses had to wait for fruit to dry and recover its sweetness.

In some cases, lower-than-optimium levels of dry matter - a measure of sweetness - meant fruit had to be diverted to other markets and growers missed out on extra payments.

"The rain hasn't made life easy," Ms Ellery said.

"It was hard to get the clearance to pick because the sugar levels weren't up to what they should have been. It was very frustrating to say the least."

Packing usually finished at the end of May but dragged on into June, with some packhouses having to use fans to dry fruit, she said. They had done well to achieve packout rates as high as 85 to 90 per cent.

About three-quarters of the crop had so far been shipped, with a little more than usual going to Europe instead of Japan "because we didn't quite have the taste profile".

About 2.3 million trays of the main haywood (green) crop were picked, down about 10 per cent on last year, Ms Ellery said.

The drought had only a limited impact, with fruit size just slightly below average but above the national average.

However, strong winds at Christmas meant there was more blemished fruit.

Another reason for the lower crop was that growers had switched more of their orchards over to new green and gold varieties, she said.

The main gold crop, hort 16A, was also down about 10 per cent to 552,000 trays, she said.
"Being a more delicate fruit it doesn't take much to knock around."

Most of it was going to Southeast Asian markets, while smaller quantities had been shipped to the United States and Australia, although Australia had proved difficult to pack for because of its tough market access rules, Ms Ellery said.

Another 83,000 trays of two new gold varieties, gold9 and gold3, and a sweet green were packed, while there was a healthy jump in organic fruit from 75,000 to 85,000 trays.

"We are happy with that."

Wai-west Horticulture operations general manger Alan Dobbie said what was shaping up as a bumper season had been blown off course by gales around Christmas.

Super yields were cancelled out by lower packouts, which fell to as low as the mid 60 and 70 per cent range. "We basically ended up with a good average season."

Like other fruit, brix levels were lower than normal but still satisfactory, he said.

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Some of their gold9 had had to be repacked but they were still learning how to grow the variety.

Another grower, Phil Jones, said he had picked his biggest ever crop and fruit quality had held up well despite challenging harvest conditions.

Mainland chairman Rod Fry said the rain had been a pain but he was confident what growers lost on dry matter payments they would make up on fruit size. "We won't be too far behind the eight ball.

"I think growers will be relatively satisfied with the season and that predicted prices are no worse than last year."

This was a reasonable outcome given the industry was still struggling with a high New Zealand dollar,although it had fallen in recent weeks, and Zespri was starting to run out of foreign exchange cover, he said.

There were minor concerns about how well fruit would store after such a wet harvest and about the pollination rates and lower yields of new varieties but it was early days.

On the plus side, an encouraging amount of fruit had been sent to China in containers and the region remained one of the few still free of the devastating Psa-V disease.

Growers had to weigh up whether to keep growing the lucrative hort16A, which was highly susceptible to Psa-V, or progressively switch over to new, more disease-tolerant varieties, Mr Fry said. Some had begun notch grafting their vines in a bid to speed up the process so they didn't lose so much production. 

KIWIFRUIT PRICES

Zespri orchard gate returns per tray 30 45 25 2013/14 indicative 2012/13 final

Green $4.20-$4.70 $4.62

Organic green $5.70-$6.20 $6.18

Gold $10.50-$11.20 $10.45

Green14 $7-$8 $6.65 Peter Watson

- © Fairfax NZ News

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