Saturday, December 2, 2023

Zespri reports major drop in crop volumes

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No profit this year for over half NZ’s Green growers.
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The weather events that continue to plague the kiwifruit sector over harvest time have contributed to a slump in fruit volumes this season, making the yield the lowest for years.

Zespri’s latest crop estimate indicates this season’s harvest will amount to 136 million trays of fruit, down even on last year’s disappointing harvest of 171 million, and well short of 2021’s record-breaking 182 million trays.

The volume impact on some fruit types is even more marked. Green kiwifruit are expected to be their lowest for 20 years at only 42 million trays, down from 61 million last year.

An untimely combination of weather events hammered crop volumes this season, kicking off with a warm winter-early spring period that affected budding, followed by a devastating frost in early October that completely wiped out crops in some Bay of Plenty orchards. 

Cyclone Hale in late January flooded orchards in the region, and Cyclone Gabrielle has affected an estimated 70% of the Hawke’s Bay orchard crop and 30% of Gisborne’s. 

A hail event in Te Puke last month is also expected to further impact crop volumes.

Zespri CEO Dan Mathieson acknowledged the tough time growers have faced.

“Like many others in the primary industries around the world, kiwifruit growers have faced a particularly tough time this growing season, including many weather-related challenges,” he said.

The drop in crop volumes does not come as a complete surprise to the sector; a decline was signalled when Seeka, the industry’s largest grower and post-harvest processor, announced in April that its total volumes would be down by 20% .

The industry is using the lower crop volumes as an opportunity for the sector to focus on dealing with the quality issues that plagued last year’s crop, and to gear up for what is expected to be a record 2024 season.

Attention to fruit handling at harvest has been a key area, one where fruit damaged at harvest last season did not manifest until later in the season prior to export, requiring significant re-handling and pushing rejection rates to all-time highs.

The problems of last season were emphasised with the last two shipments, one to Japan and one to Europe, reporting exceptionally high levels of spoilage that prompted a further 60c-a-tray reduction on the Green fruit payment, leaving growers with no income payment for February. 

That came after an August 2022 announcement when growers were informed of a $1.95-per-tray reduction in Green payments, and SunGold growers had a reduction of $2.80 per tray due to fruit losses.

A visit by Farmers Weekly to fruit retailers in South Korea in late April confirmed the quality plan was working, with retailers and Zespri country staff reporting this season’s large-sized  fruit were of a high standard, and selling well. 

The volume rebound for next season is expected to be significant, with estimates it may approach 200 million trays as more SunGold fruit vines reach production maturity. 

Total NZ supply is forecast to reach 230 million trays by 2028.

NZ Kiwifruit Growers CEO Colin Bond said he hopes to see Green fruit rebound to a more sustainable 50 million trays next season, accepting some volume has been transferred to SunGold with regrafting.

“Over half our Green growers will not make a profit this year,” he said.

Bond said half a dozen major weather events contributed to the crop losses. 

Future weather events aside, he was confident the industry could return to its targeted 200 million trays next year.

“We had 180 million trays in 2021. Three years on with Zespri releasing more SunGold, expectations have been for industry to grow by 10 million trays a year. It is absolutely realistic to achieve that.”

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