Northland developments are a sight to see

By Jen Scoular

We continue to grow as an industry, not just in production, but grow in what we see and prepare ourselves for.

Horticulture is not for the faint hearted and as we face challenges around pests, quality and inconsistent yields, we must grow our agility and ability to meet those challenges.

The board headed to Northland in May to visit three of the very large orchards under development near Houhora. The area has traditionally been one with larger orchards, with growers fully employed in avocado production, and more consistent yields because of the warmer temperatures.

The new developments are a sight to see.  The average size of avocado orchards across New Zealand is less than four hectares, the new developments that are mostly conversions from dairy farms, range from 50 to 200 hectares.

Traditional avocado tree spacing includes spacing of 10m by 10m or in the Bay of Plenty often 14m by 14m, which is much wider than the new developments spaced at 5m by 5m or even closer. The latest global technology is being utilised in regards to soil preparation, clonal rootstocks, weed control, wind protection and nutrition.

Growers acknowledge they are still learning, and adapting as necessary to optimise growth and future productivity. It remains unknown how well intensively planted trees can be managed to constrain growth but the newly planted hectares anticipate that trees will be kept compact and under three metres tall, which is very different to traditional expectations that the tree will flourish up to six-eight metres tall.

Across Northland, new investments into avocados currently total nearly 1,000 hectares, on top of the current 3,800 hectares producing avocados. This investment is the result of the increase in values from avocados and the future opportunity seen by those investing in this industry. It is a very positive signal, hence the trip north for the Board, to see the developments, understand more about the technology and management practices being employed and to develop relationships which is hugely important in any industry.

The increased industry value is also pushing up both demand for and the price of avocado orchards in the Bay of Plenty. We are also hearing more from land owners further south, questioning the feasibility of avocado production in sheltered areas as far south as Canterbury. We’ll leave those growers with their trials, happy that people are prepared to take the risk for the wonderful outcome of their own avocado trees.

We are now finalising figures for the 2018-19 season and growers will be facing the reality of a challenging season. Continued rain through harvest, some poor outturns in market, incorrect volume forecasts and oversupplied markets all led to a difficult season. It tested our systems, our growing practices, our harvest and packing practice, it tested the relationships across our industry and it tested how well we can still collaborate under pressure. While our markets were challenging, we made real progress in our promotional events over the season.

We were very pleased to have Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern open the New Zealand International Avocado conference in Tauranga in September. We enjoyed the additional visibility in Thailand of having our Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters attend our launch event, bringing with him Thailand’s Deputy Finance Minister and New Zealand’s Ambassador and Trade Commissioner. The New Zealand Ambassador to the Republic of Korea attended our season launch event in Korea. As an industry, we certainly appreciate the efforts from NZ Inc to help us raise visibility of our wonderful avocados from New Zealand.

Going forward, we are looking at a bigger crop. We are appreciating a drier growing season, and we are actively seeking improvements in the supply chain and actively promoting improved best practice from growers on-orchard.

With the increased investment into avocados, the continued global demand for avocados and the need for healthy food, we see huge opportunity going forward. We just have to make sure we are realistic about the risks of being horticulturalists – or better still, enjoy the challenge of being horticulturalists.

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