Monday, February 26, 2024

Avocado growers look to tell green story

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Exporters get up again after being knocked by cyclones for three seasons.
New Zealand avocados have provenance, good attributes and sustainability, said NZ Avocado chief executive Jen Scoular. File photo
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A tough year for avocado exporters is prompting the sector to look hard at options to improve fruit quality and crop resilience in the face of tough international competition. They are also working to turn up the volume to overseas markets on the industry’s sustainability story.

New Zealand Avocado CEO Brad Siebert said three tough growing seasons punctuated by Cyclone Dovi in 2022, then cyclones Hale and Gabrielle last year, had beaten up fruit during the critical growth phase, resulting in significant downgrade from export standard.

“This sees the volume increase that goes onto the domestic market with about 3 million trays domestically. It means we have about a million less trays not going to export,” he said.

Estimates are for about 4.4 million trays this season in total, with 1.4 million export trays, compared to 2.6 million in previous years.

Hopes are high for prices to rise coming into the winter harvest period of the second-generation fruit that started growing in November.

“This fruit looks good for size, and if Nature plays its part, we will be looking good for that harvest.”

Export competition has also been intense, with southern hemisphere competition coming out of most of South America and Western Australia. 

Eastern Australian states have some limitations on their export options, given the endemic fruit fly problem in Queensland. But Australia is achieving good access to India, thanks in part to a free trade agreement that sees a gradual decline in tariffs on fruit exported there.

Siebert said NZ growers are always challenged, growing the fruit in the windiest, wettest possible part of the world. It means year-round supply is also a challenge compared to South American competitors. NZ avocados are only 2% of global supply.

“At the moment we are putting credentials around our sustainability story and are completing a whole of industry life-cycle assessment that provides evidence-based proof of our sustainability.”

He said overseas operators’ impact on the environment and labour conditions suffered by staff in avocado operations are topical subjects on social media at present.

“You have to wave the flag to get the public’s attention, and right now people are not buying based on a responsible environmental decision.” 

However, he said retailers are increasingly seeking validation on produce sources and production, while trade agreements are also increasingly seeking assurances as part of market access requirements.

“We want to make sure we have the standards in place to achieve that.”

Other efforts to improve crop consistency are presently in quarantine, with the importation of United States and Israeli root stock. 

Once out in April, the clonal rootstock will be trialled for its suitability to grow here.

“For growers we know, with these types of activities, the timelines are long, but it is the responsible thing to do to help improve the sector’s opportunities.”

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