Monday, February 26, 2024

Cherries on top, but it’s the pits for Hawke’s Bay

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Great season down south, but Cyclone Gabrielle took a bite out of fruit long after the fact.
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Hawke’s Bay cherry growers are still feeling the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle.

The owner of Riverside Cherries in Hawke’s Bay, Jerf van Beek, said repercussions from Cyclone Gabrielle meant their harvest was “light” and only about half the tonnage of the previous season.

Van Beek supplied cherries into the domestic market.

Early season cherries were most affected, with quality improving for later varieties, Van Beek said.

The cyclone meant soils were waterlogged and trees were not able to store enough carbohydrates, he said.

In some blocks access was restricted due to muddy conditions and stopped timely fertiliser application and crop spraying, he said.

Quality was, however, good, and prices were very high, which was a “silver lining”, Van Beek said.

“However, kilos out the gate make the difference.” 

Cherry sales were not affected by economic pressures on consumers, he said. 

The season was stellar, with growers in areas unaffected by the cyclone, such as Blenheim, faring well, he said.

The industry faced spiralling costs, with labour costs increasing and staff shortages, he said.

Van Beek said despite good prices, fixed costs remained the same.

Owner of Riverside Cherries in Hawke’s Bay Jerf van Beek says they picked about half of their usual tonnages because of the effect that wet weather from Cyclone Gabrielle had on cherry trees.

CEO of Summerfruit NZ Kate Hellstrom said despite challenges, high prices and good fruit quality were the norm for both export and domestic market suppliers.

Early season exports were higher than in previous years as a result of good weather, fruit set, pollination and good pre-season weather conditions in export orchards in Otago, Hellstrom said.

Exporters “had a really good freight situation this year” and managed to secure space on more passenger flights coming in and out of the country, she said.

Almost all exporters were from Otago, with other areas serving the domestic market, she said.

“We’re about 65% to 70% through the export season. At this stage, we’re at a similar volume of exports compared to last year,” she said.

Hellstrom said as of last week about 2000 tonnes of cherries were exported, which was similar to this time last year. 

Last year a total of 3600t was exported, she said.

Yields were similar to last season. Growers and exporters are very pleased with fruit quality, which had a high brix count, she said. Brix is the number of dissolved solids in a liquid measured via its specific gravity and determines flavour and sweetness.

“In terms of grower returns, we expect that they should be very healthy this year,” Hellstrom said.

Inflationary costs have been a challenge for growers, but the industry benefited as major challenges were removed when borders opened and more holiday visa holders came into the country, she said.

Chinese New Year was always a milestone for exporters, but this year it was held late compared to previous years, and had less of an influence on orchard returns, she said.

The industry also benefited from a slow start to Chile’s export season, she said.

Chile is a major exporter to markets New Zealand also supplies into.

The sales manager at 45 South, a cherry exporter in Cromwell, Richard Cameron, said they will still be packing for another week before their season ends.

Cameron said pricing was “okay”, with the late Chinese New Year reducing demand.

A relatively dry summer meant the orchard only had 80% of a full yield, he said.

But a smaller crop meant larger fruit sizes, which suited consumers and fetched higher prices.

Cameron said 45 South also supplies Foodstuffs in the North Island, and that good marketing campaigns by Foodstuffs led to good domestic sales this season.

Christmas prices for domestic cherries were just as good, if not better, than export prices, with post-Christmas prices lower, but with large volumes moving, he said.

Airfreight was not a challenge like previous years, with airlines like Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines stepping up and allowing space on passenger flights, Cameron said.

According to the NZ Horticulture Export Authority, the industry exported $77.8 million worth of cherries in 2022, with prices of around $20,000/t.

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