Ambitious plan to lift avocado output, profit

AMBITIOUS PLAN: Avocado Industry Council chief executive Jen Scoular said consistency is they key to growth in the avocado industry.
AMBITIOUS PLAN: Avocado Industry Council chief executive Jen Scoular said consistency is they key to growth in the avocado industry.

New Zealand's avocado industry is planning to triple productivity per hectare and quadruple industry returns over the next nine years. 

The Avocado Industry Council and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) are negotiating a contract to initiate a five-year partnership programme called Go Global.

More than 73 per cent of New Zealand's 1600 avocado growers are in the Bay of Plenty. Avocados account for around two per cent of the Bay of Plenty's gross domestic product.

The programme will formally begin before the 2014 to 2015 avocado season.

The object of Go Global is to "equip the industry with the tools" to increase average productivity up to 12 tonnes per hectare and industry returns to $280 million by 2023.

Avocado Industry Council chief executive Jen Scoular said the biggest issue for the industry is inconsistency.

Some orchards are achieving 23 tonnes per hectare, but the average yield in the 2012 to 2013 season was four tonnes per hectare.

"We know that we've got some very good orchards. What we've never done is analyse what they're doing or use what they're doing on other orchards."

MPI will contribute $4.28m to Go Global over five years. An equivalent amount will be contributed by the Avocado Industry Council and six other industry co-investors.

"The programme requires all of the industry to work together," said Scoular. "That's pretty innovative for New Zealand. Or for horticulture anywhere."

As well as research, funding will go towards a marketing strategy.

Scoular said the industry does not differentiate New Zealand avocados from any other avocados in the global market.

Go Global will create a "New Zealand avocado story" outlining the health benefits and quality control of New Zealand fruit.

New Zealand accounts for around 2 per cent of global avocado production.

The programme will target the Asian market, where Scoular said there is an opportunity for New Zealand to gain a "first mover" advantage.

New Zealand's main competitors in the industry are Mexico and other Central American countries. These exporters focus on the United States market which Scoular said is growing at 10 per cent a year.

Scoular said New Zealand's goals in the Asian market are achievable.

New Zealand is the second biggest supplier of avocados to the Singaporean market after Australia, and Scoular said New Zealand dominance is increasing.

A survey last year showed the majority of Singaporean customers recognised New Zealand as an avocado supplier.

Australia has also doubled consumption over the last 10 years.

"We know what to do, we've just never had the funding," said Scoular.

She said once the five-year funding programme is finished and productivity issues are addressed, a levy can be taken from the industry to continue marketing and research activities.

Avocados are New Zealand's third largest fresh fruit export, behind kiwifruit and apples.

The Avocado Industry Council expects New Zealand's 2014 to 2015 season to produce a record five million trays, or more than 100 million avocados.