Golden days for kiwifruit, hops growers

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:00 24/05/2014

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The Nelson region's kiwifruit and hop growers are reporting a good season and feeling confident about the years to come.

Kiwifruit producers are capitalising on a strong demand for the gold varieties, soon to outstrip the traditional green Hayward type in the region. For hop growers, it's the burgeoning craft brewing market that promises a healthy future.

Mainland Kiwi Growers Entity runs the region's kiwifruit production from Motueka, co-ordinating 10 packhouses and nine coolstores, all bar one in the Motueka district.

The fruit is exported through Zespri.

Mainland director Evan Heywood said growers were "grafting over" to gold varieties as quickly as they could, because of its higher value and better production level.

The change began in 1998. It was a grower choice, with some sticking to green.

"It's been a good gold year," Heywood said. Volumes, size, and the all-important dry matter level which related to fruit taste had been good.

"Zespri pay a very good premium for high-tasting fruit, so dry matter is very important to growers and to the customers who eat it.

"The gold's been better than the green, you would say."

The entity's manager, Glynis Ellery, said the second charter ship of the season was loaded at Port Nelson yesterday, with four more to come as well as "numerous" containers of kiwifruit to be exported.

A good percentage of Nelson's green kiwifruit went to Europe, with the gold varieties mainly going to South-East Asia and China, she said.

The region would product an estimated 1.2 million trays of the gold this year, and 1.8m of the green.

"We see that swapping over next year."

Picking should be completed by the end of next week, with the shipping season probably finishing by the end of August.

Nelson has only a 4 per cent share of New Zealand kiwifruit production, with most concentrated around the Bay of Plenty. The region has remained free of the Psa-V disease that has hit the crops of northern growers.

Ellery said it was too soon to know what returns on this season's kiwifruit would be, with the final payment for last year's crop just received.

Last season's national figures for orchard gate returns were $5.23 a tray for green kiwifruit, $7.07 for organic and $12.91 for gold.

Nelson-based NZ Hops chairman Paul Dalzell said it had been a good hop season, with the crop in excellent condition.

"We're still searching for greater yield in some of the preferred varieties for the home brewers - the new aroma hops. We could do with a lot more of those, but generally speaking we've got to be very happy both with the condition of the hops and the volumes coming through."

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Dalzell said there was strong demand for the aromatic hops used in craft breweries to flavour beers, with less call for the commodity bittering hop favoured by larger producers.

Nelson is the only region growing hops, with hop gardens in the Riwaka, Motueka and Tapawera areas and on the Waimea Plans.

The 17 shareholders produce about 750 metric tonnes of hops, less than 1 per cent of world production.

"We can't meet the large German and American growers head-on at the commodity level. We have to have a distinctive flavour or characteristic of the hop - which has been developed."

Growers dry the hops in their own kilns and deliver them in large bales to the company's processing plant in Appleby. The crop is then turned into pellets to be compacted for shipping.

About 85 per cent is exported. However, Dalzell said the Nelson growers' future was linked to the exponential growth in the New Zealand craft beer market, "and in Australia - which is almost a local market as well".

- The Nelson Mail

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