Pipfruit bonanza harvests $150m

Good luck and good management have put $150 million in Nelson pipfruit growers' pockets in the past year - up by a much needed $50 million on the previous year.

Pipfruit is a significant contributor to the region's economy and the growers' production has helped the industry nationally bring in a record $500 million in export earnings this year.

Tasman's 5.25 million carton export crop from last summer went into relatively bare British markets, after competing international crops were battered by bad weather, and supplied strong, expanding Asian markets bolstered by population and income growth.

Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard said that in addition, Kiwi growers' attention to quality, a large 16.9 million carton national crop and international recognition that New Zealand apples and pears were a niche product saw apples and pears return the record $500m to the country.

He said there was no doubt bad weather experienced by Chilean and the United States growers had enabled New Zealand orchardists to land fruit in welcoming markets. "But I think more and more, New Zealand pipfruit is a seen as a niche product, rather than a commodity."

Phenomenal population growth throughout parts of Asia coupled with discerning buyers with increased disposable income supported the high returns and "makes sense of us to aspire to being a billion-dollar industry by 2022", Mr Pollard said.

This year's strong return is not just a boon to growers who have experienced low to loss prices over the last five years, but will also have a positive impact on related rural communities, he said.

"Hawke's Bay received $350 million in export receipts, up $100 million on 2012 and Nelson has received $150 million, $50 million more than 2012. When you factor in the economic multiplier of these extra receipts, that represents a huge economic boost for provincial New Zealand," Mr Pollard said.

He also pointed to the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme, introduced in 2008, as a key to the industry achieving high fruit quality and productivity.

Having temporary Pacific Island RSE workers gave orchardists labour certainty and allowed them to plan and invest for the future, he said.

Motueka Fruit Growers chairman Simon Easton said he had not seen any new cars around yet but growers were pretty upbeat.

"Most growers will be paying off debt," he said. "One or two of the bigger growers will be buying more orchard and planting trees. Most growers will be planting a little bit - but nothing like what we saw five to seven years ago. Everyone is consolidating now."

Mr Easton said frosts through the east coast of the US last season carved around 20 million to 30 million cartons off their export crop and, with Britain and Europe's crops also down, meant New Zealand apples landed in the best European market exporters had seen in 20 years and commanded strong prices.

Standard royal gala and braeburn varieties returned about $23 to $25 a carton with higher-paying jazz and envy around $25 to $30. New varieties were returning $30-plus, he said.

The focus for growers now was to maintain fruit quality and standards, he said.

"Every grower I have talked to is feeling good about going forward and, touch wood, we've had no hail and some nice weather so far - it's just magic."