More than 1000 attendees from 32 countries where avocados are grown visited the large Harbour Edge orchard development at Tapora, North Auckland, over two days before the 10th World Avocado Congress began.
Some 30 minutes west of Wellsford on the shore of Kaipara Harbour, the 400ha former dairy farm on sandy soils is being converted into one of the largest avocado businesses in New Zealand.
Over 150ha have been planted in 40,000 trees, now ranging in age up to seven years, after extensive recontouring, drainage, drilling, and irrigation, and with artificial and natural shelter in 1ha cells.
A further 150ha are suitable for avocados and the rest for citrus planting, after a pause of a year or two to assess the productivity and success of development to date, said part-owner Glen Inger.
The Harbour Edge principals are Glen and Joanne Inger and Hamish and Robyn Alexander, along with Glenn Ashwell as a new part-owner.
Glen Inger is the former chief executive of the Warehouse retail group; he has big farming and forestry interests in his home region and is also involved in the expansion of Mercer Mushrooms in North Waikato.
“The synergies between glasshouse growing and fruit orchards are creating a circular system which starts with the right land use and delivers productivity and sustainability,” he said.
Harbour Edge manager Nick Common said current plantings are on three spacings – 7 metres between rows and 3.5m between trees, 7m by 5m, and 6m by 4m.
Inger said afterwards that 6m by 4m is now the preferred spacing, with tree height kept at 4m for predominantly ground picking and machinery access, along with maximum light penetration.
Cyclone Gabrielle dropped about 20% of the current crop on the ground and caused a lot of leaf damage and wind rub on fruit, Inger said.
Common said the annual costs of the orchard were $10,000 to $15,000/ha for the trees up to four years old and $20,000/ha thereafter.
Until now productivity has been around 10t/ha but he is expecting to double that yield this year, when the development will begin to be profitable.
Sprinkler irrigation at 50litres/hour puts on 1.5mm/hr for four-hour periods each day, enabling fertigation without nutrient leaching, he said.
Latin American congress goers were particularly interested in the moderate climate at sea level less than a kilometre from the harbour, which doesn’t have the extremes of temperatures and droughts they are managing.
For Harbour Edge, all domestic and export marketing is done by NZ Avocado Collective, the grower-owned entity selling fruit from the three largest avocado businesses in Northland and New Zealand.
The chief executive of the collective, Jarrod Redwood of Whangārei, told the World Congress that currently half of all fruit goes on the domestic market.
From the export half some 30% goes to Australia and 70% to southeast Asia, north Asia and the United Arab Emirates.
Picking begins in June, exporting in July and most fruit has been harvested by the end of September, leaving only a remnant for customer requirements over summer months.
Growth in demand in the domestic market is good and their export development targets are Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand, Redwood said.
NZ as a whole produces 7-8 million trays and the collective is presently marketing 500,000 trays.
It was formed by Harbour Edge (40,000 trees growing to 80,000), foreign-owned King Avocado in the Far North (200,000) and another Far North group of Largus, Mapua and Tiri (300,000) under the management of Ian Broadhurst.
In the future Harbour Edge itself is projected to harvest 500,000 trays annually.
Part-owners of Harbour Edge, the Alexanders, have just sold their other big horticultural enterprise, Southern Paprika Ltd (SPL) at Warkworth.
SPL, which was a 25-year joint venture between the Alexanders and the Levarht Produce Company of the Netherlands, was sold in March for an undisclosed amount to Market Gardeners (MG), the Christchurch-based co-operative produce wholesaler.
Featuring 27ha of modern glasshouses across five developments, housing up to 1 million capsicum plants and producing 7 million kilograms a year, SPL is one of the largest hothouse operations in NZ.
It has 160 full-time equivalent staff members, many of whom are Pacific Islanders with residency or in NZ under the Recognised Seasonal Employment scheme.
The co-operation between Harbour Edge and SPL will continue, which includes sharing RSE workers, post-harvest avocado handling in Warkworth and having spent compost medium from the SPL glasshouses trucked to Harbour Edge for mulching around trees.
SPL also has very good relationships with supermarket chains and produce wholesalers, Inger said.