Healthy pipfruit profits expected

PETER WATSON
Last updated 12:46 09/07/2013

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The Nelson economy is in for a much-needed boost with the pipfruit season shaping up as the best in five years.

After losing money in three of the last four years, growers expect to bank a modest to healthy profit this year on the back of record prices for many varieties in Europe and Britain and steady growth in Asia.

They have been aided by a shortage of fruit in key markets and a weakening kiwi.

Industry representatives say the upturn will allow growers to start reducing their high debt levels and resume replanting, with nurseries already reporting increased orders.

Bill Findlater, Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency chief executive, said growers were feeling quietly confident again.

"They will want to wait until the final returns are in but there are a few more smiles around.

"The growers deserve it because they have worked really hard over the last few years just to keep going. Even when things were tight nobody was pulling the blanket up over their head."

After a static contribution in recent years from what was a key driver of the local economy, he expected the pipfruit sector to provide a good stimulus this year.

Nadene Tunley, Pipfruit New Zealand chairwoman, said while the selling season was not yet half way through in Europe and Britain, there was a "positive vibe" to the markets.

Nelson growers had shown a lot of resilience and belief in the industry – "it's in their DNA" – and the higher returns were overdue and desperately needed.

Much of the past financial pain was because they had spent heavily on replanting their orchards in new varieties, she said. Although they had incurred debt, they were now better placed to grow than Hawke's Bay which had more blocks of older trees.

Ms Tunley said reinvestment was critical if the industry was to reach the government target of doubling exports by 2020-25.

Also vital was ensuring there was not a repeat of this season when there were not enough people to harvest the crop in Nelson and other areas.

The industry was in the process of putting together a case to the Government for an increase in Pacific Island workers through the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. With fewer foreign holidaymakers to work in orchards and most of the unemployed based in the big cities, RSE workers were critical to its growth plans, she said.

The scheme, which added about 900 to a work force of about 6000 in Nelson this season, also benefited the islands with workers sending much of their wages back home.

However, with unemployment high in New Zealand and the Government promoting a New Zealanders first policy, the industry would have to convince the Government not to follow through on its plans to cut the RSE annual cap of 8000 workers, Ms Tunley said.

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- The Nelson Mail

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