Apple exports a sweet success

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 09:09 23/01/2014
honeycrisp apple waipopo orchard
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/Fairfax NZ

TO MARKET: Brothers Danny and Peter Bennett – Waipopo Orchards and Honeycrisp New Zealand Ltd co-directors – check the apples destined for a hungry American market.

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The growing American demand for the honeycrisp apple has prompted Waipopo Orchards to encourage other local growers to join its export market.

Honeycrisp out-earns any other export apple grown in New Zealand. In the US it sells for about US$50 (NZ$61) a box, compared with other varieties, which are about US$20 a box.

Honeycrisp is the most popular apple in the US, with demand increasing 20 to 30 per cent each year since Waipopo's first export of 50 tonnes in 2011.

Waipopo co-director Peter Bennett said that along with growers in Central Otago a total of 1300 tonnes, which was double the volume shipped in 2013, would be exported this year. Waipopo will produce about 1100 tonnes, which is 85 per cent of the market.

Mr Bennett describes the apple as juicy, crisp and flavoursome. Its texture does not diminish in storage and it does not go brown when cut.

Bigger than other apples, honeycrisp grow to an average 200 to 300 grams each and can get up to 500g. Developed at the University of Minnesota, its origins are unknown but it grows well in cool climates.

Honeycrisp New Zealand Ltd, of which Mr Bennett and his brother Danny are two of the four directors, is sub-licensed by McGrath Licensed Varieties Ltd. Honeycrisp NZ Ltd's role is to control and administer the production of honeycrisp apples in New Zealand.

The only place they are sold in New Zealand is at the Blue Barn in Timaru.

Danny Bennett hopes at least another 12 growers will get involved to support expansion but it takes about three years before the new trees fruit.

As well as upgrading the packing facility next year, the Bennetts plan to increase planting by another 25 hectares, taking the dedicated honeycrisp area to 52 hectares. In the next few years, between 60 and 100 more workers will be employed at Waipopo.

Danny Bennett said the auxiliary industries that developed from the orchard's expansion had the most impact on the local economy, including forklift drivers, packaging and shipping.

"There has been a lot of interest in what we are doing from overseas visitors," Danny Bennett said.

Though some honeycrisp apples are produced in Chile and South Africa, New Zealand is considered one of the best places to grow them.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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