Some Green kiwifruit growers need to step up orchard management to lift their productivity amid growing pressures on the crop’s profitability.
A recent forum on Green returns, and how to improve them, included a panel of long-time Green growers highlighting the management skills more growers need to develop if they wish to get more out of their orchards.
The forum was initiated by NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) after a Green grower survey revealed a growing level of disquiet among orchardists about their crop’s place in Zespri’s export portfolio as SunGold continues to surge in export volumes and earnings.
The total Green crop is about 50 million trays against SunGold’s 100 million-plus, as the full impact of several years of increases in licensed SunGold area starts to hit home in harvested volumes.
Meantime the majority of Green growers face the prospect of either breaking even or running at a loss this season. This comes after two years blighted by poor crop quality due in part to covid labour issues in 2020-22, then climate impacts last year including floods, frosts, and cyclones.
Colin Bond, NZKGI CEO, said the forum had started at an orchard gate level to inform growers about what they could do themselves to leverage more profit from their orchard.
A panel of successful high-yielding Green growers underscored some management aspects growers need to drill down into become more successful.
“There were very clear messages there about ‘knowing your orchard’, the importance of timing, replacing diseased plants, and the importance of timing for pollination in orchards, and the variety of male plants grown in orchards,” Bond said.
He said with an increasing percentage of orchards under management, rather than owner operator control, there has been more reliance on third party operators and a drop off in intergenerationally shared skills.
“So it becomes even more critical to ensure you have very good communication with the manager or operator of your orchard.”
Green yields took a hit this season, down to 7000 trays a hectare on average, compared to the usual average of about 10,000. But Bond said for growers capable of producing 12,000-plus trays a hectare, the returns are still there, and there is a strong incentive to lift that low average up.
“You are looking at almost $100,000 a hectare before costs and in a horticultural sense, this is still good.”
He said growers would have to look at the likes of Rockit apples for the next closest return outside of SunGold kiwifruit for that type of gross figure.
“It is just that it has been two hard years.”
He said if all growers in the lower-yielding quartiles could be lifted up over 12,000 trays a hectare, profitability would be significantly more favourable.
Green growers have also been feeling more pinched in recent years by the creep of more SunGold fruit into their harvest window.
Post-harvest companies assured growers at the forum their Green variety continues to play a valuable role as a crop that ensures they can better utilise their capital-intensive sorting and packing plants.
They were also assured by Zespri marketing executives the fruit’s place in its global portfolio is valued, with retailers in Europe in particular missing the usual supplies of the fruit in market this season.
“There are the health benefits of the Green fruit that consumers recognise. The challenge is really about competition from other Green fruit sources, particularly Chile, which puts downward pressure on prices,” Bond said.
NZKGI’s research and Zespri’s own work have shown that it is still, however, possible for New Zealand-sourced Green fruit to maintain a valuable price premium amid that competition.
Future iterations of the Green fruit will have a focus on a combination of its taste profile and its ability to maintain its ready-to-eat firmness for longer for consumers.
“The forum has proved helpful for those newer growers to get a better understanding on what they could do to improve their orchard’s performance. For older experienced growers it can always be harder to find new things to do, but part of our role is to respond to growers’ concerns.”