August 2022 update

By Jen Scoular

A recent Rabobank report on the Australian avocado sector highlighted a mis-matched supply and demand in that market. For ten years, Australia has been the highest paying market in the world for avocados and New Zealand has enjoyed sole importer status. That changed when Australia opened their market to Chilean imports in 2020. Western Australia, who harvest their avocados at the same time as New Zealand, also had three times more volume in 2021 than the previous year.

The report talked about the crash of value, and the need to develop other export markets. The New Zealand avocado sector is well placed regarding access to other markets, as growers have been investing in our export systems, and in market access for a long time. That advantage meant that a third of our exports were diverted away from Australia and into Asia, markets that in the future will continue to see a much higher percentage of avocado exports. Investment will be needed going forward to grow those markets, especially if we intend to achieve a premium over the more realistic “world price” exporters are likely to receive in Asia, and perhaps in Australia. Any premium will depend on our ability to consistently deliver premium avocados to a range of markets.

Exporters are getting back into the markets too, and seeing customers and assessing supply chains. The crop on the tree now will be harvested over the next six months. While it’s lower in many established orchards, there is new volume coming from some of the big developments planted over the last 3-5 years. We are forecasting that new volume, and we may see total volume increase from 8 or 9 million trays to around 12 million by 2030.

New season avocados are looking good in retail, and the season ahead is also looking good. A grower I recently spoke to said that this time of year is exciting yet a little intimidating. After flowering in October 2021, avocado fruitlets form and through this wet and dreary winter have been sizing up, maturing and taking in the nutrients that make them so delicious. But, until they are harvested, and go through the pack run, growers say they never quite know how good their crop is. A lot of hard work has gone into producing the crop, and a good packout depends on that work being done diligently and effectively. There was some quiet expectation from this grower (and there will be from many) as they look ahead. Good returns, however, won’t come unless the hard work has been done. This includes unwavering adoption of best practice, care and attention to every aspect of production, to ensure a good yield, and to ensure on-orchard costs are managed very well. One harvester I spoke to said he hardly ever saw the orchardist when he comes to do the harvest. He noted that too many growers leave the work to contractors, and don’t actually see what is being done. It is so important for the orchardist to understand their production, see the fruit as it is being harvested and learn how to manage the trees, soil and orchard to improve both yield and quality.

Avocados don’t get stored for longer than a couple of weeks, so the harvest plan is hugely important to ensure enough avocados are picked and packed to meet market orders. That’s export and New Zealand markets, where the fresher the avocados are, the better. To supply the Australian market, exporters will be setting the harvest plan to meet the ships that get the containers to one of the Australian ports in time to feed into the retail distribution centre and the retail stores. This logistical challenge increases getting our avocados to Asia, particularly in this very disrupted global freight environment.

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