In 2007, the Organic Growers Group became an Incorporated Society, and was renamed as the NZ Organic Avocado Growers Incorporated (NZAOG). A funding application to the national organics organisation, Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ), was successful and the first funded projects got underway. This funding which ran through to June 2009, was part of the Organic Advisory Programme which was used to establish the organisation and run a number of projects with the aim of supporting interested growers and improving the level of information available.
The following is an extract from the constitution of the incorporated society:
- To promote the growing of organic avocados.
- To encourage and support more growers to grow avocados organically.
- To educate and inform.
- To advocate on behalf of growers with an interest in Organic Avocado Production.
- To facilitate communication between all parties with an interest in organic avocado production or marketing.
- To encourage and promote research into Organic Avocado production.
What is Organics?
Organics is often thought of as not doing certain things, not applying toxic pesticides and not putting on synthetic fertilisers. Indeed it is these, but to do it well it is much more. It means having an appreciation for the role that soil microbes play in context with the trees. The bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods and worms, are all part of the complex food web that digests raw material and releases nutrients right where the trees can access them.
Balancing the soil chemistry is step one. Step two is paying attention to nurturing the hidden herd of helpers who deliver nutrients to the trees, who predate on soil borne pathogens and who bind carbon into complex organic compounds that are the soil humus.
The soil could be thought of as the stomach of the plant, we feed the soil and the soil feeds the trees.
All of this can be done without being certified organic. Making the decision to become certified is about getting recognition for the principles behind the growing system. Particularly recognition in the market place where consumers who want a guarantee of no chemical residue on their food and who value the contribution organics makes in environmental management are able to have confidence and trust in their food source.
There is much diversity in organic management practices, many of which have been developed by growers from their understanding of biological principles. Some practices have a foundation in work done by scientists or organic practitioners in other industries and some are based on the grower’s experience. As such, there are few studies of the efficacy of organic production systems for avocados in New Zealand. This does not mean they do not work work, rather than much of the research has yet to be done to establish how well they work. However enough progress has been made in recent years to give avocado growers the confidence to continue working and developing organic practices.
History of organics
The longest standing Certified Organic Producer of any organic producer in New Zealand is an avocado grower with Bio Gro’s registration number ‘Ten’. The orchard was certified in 1983 – the year that Bio Gro was established.
In the two decades that followed a small but steady community of growers developed, many of them working independently from other organic growers and all with a strong focus on the local market.
A number of growers became self marketers, developing their own clientele. There were export fruit being shipped from as early as 1981. There was some fruit going to the supermarkets but mostly the supply was to organic shops, direct supply and small retailers.
Prior to the first meetings of the Organic Avocado Growers Group in 1998, growers tended to work out their own programmes with management practices being quite different from orchard to orchard, some had very successful seasons at times and some others had variable results.
Not a lot of information was shared and new entrants to the sector had no real support. The growers group was set up to change all that.
Since those early days organics has always drawn interest from far and wide, but few have had sufficient pioneering spirit to pursue it. A Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) Project was undertaken by the Soil and Health Association in 2003 which saw growers get together and discuss management practices. A Resource Guide was published from that project.
With the knowledge and information from the SFF project and the occurrence of seminars by international speakers (including Dr Elaine Ingham and Dr Arden Anderson who have spoken on organics in New Zealand since 2001), alongside developments from product suppliers and advances in orchard management, confidence is growing in organic systems.
Organic fruit has been exported consistently since 2000. Export has been well established and the signals from international markets are for a strong demand for certified fruit.
Requirements for organic growers: Organics Aotearoa NZ
Biological solutions:Biological Agriculture NZ
Articles about biological growing, examples and information: Soil Foodweb, Inc
Articles about soil biology and how it relates to fertility: Acres U.S.A. US website for Eco Agriculture
I\'m interested in finding out more about organic growing, where do I go?
The NZ Organic Avocado Growers Inc was established with the objective of being a community of growers with a common interest that is able to share information, promote the growth of the sector and advocate on behalf of organic growers.
I already grow my fruit organically, why should I go through the process of certification?
Many growers work with organic principles in part or in whole. However if you want recognition for that not only within the industry but in the market place, then certification provides that. There are many growers across the horticultural industries who claim that their produce is organic, the problem being that their definition of organic is not always the same as the officially accredited certifying agents. Certification gives the consumer confidence that they can trust the source of their food to be what it claims.
How do I go about becoming certified?
A good starting point to finding out about the certification process is to talk to those already doing it. There is good information available on each of the websites as listed below and on the Organics Aotearoa website. (www.oanz.org.nz) The certifiers all have their standards available for anyone to download from their websites, it is a good idea to become familiar with them at an early stage. Once the decision has been made about which certifier to use the next thing to do is to contact them for an information pack and application form.
Which certifier should I choose?
There are four certifiers in New Zealand each with a different price structure and any one of them may be more suitable depending on the circumstances of the operation.
Bio Gro are a company owned by New Zealand Biological Producers and Consumers Council Inc. (NZBPCC). It is a not for profit organisation with organic principles at the heart of its constitution. It provides two tiers of certification, firstly a cheaper local market only certification and secondly a full export certification.
Asurequality are a state owned enterprise who undertake auditing services across a range of sectors and for different purposes, including organic certification. They offer full export certification which can be used for the New Zealand market as well.
Demeter is the certification label run by the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in New Zealand Inc. It works with the bio dynamic approach to agriculture, horticulture, forestry and animal husbandry as initiated by Rudolf Steiner. Although it is a recognised system in many countries, certification is for the New Zealand market only.
Organic Farm New Zealand is a low cost local market scheme that uses the Bio Gro standard. Auditing is done based on a peer group system.
What does it mean to work within certification?
There are two aspects to growing produce organically. Firstly, working with biological growing principles and secondly doing that within the standard set by the certifier. It is the job of the certifier to define what organic means in context of labelling the produce as organic and the orchardist’s job to work within that definition.
Put simply there are lists of certified and allowable inputs that can be used on the orchard. Any contractors used need to have their own certification or be aware of what is required to avoid introducing contamination to the certified property. It also means that the supply chain is documented and approved as complying with the standards. There are certified organic packhouses that handle the beyond gate aspect of the supply chain. Produce can be labelled as organic within the specification set out by the certifiers.
Can I produce good yields?
Orchard performance is primarily determined by how well the grower applies the programme and secondly by the system he or she is using. A successful conventional grower is likely to make a successful organic grower should they have a mind to.
As is common in the avocado industry, the performance of organic orchards is variable, suffice to say some of them have produced consistent above average yields over several years.
With no copper spray programme what about quality of the fruit ?
Data has not been analysed comparing organic fruit that is not sprayed to fruit that has had a full copper spray programme. However the exporters who have handled most of the organic fruit report that market out turns are not significantly different from conventional fruit under a full copper spray programme. It is important to appreciate that the quality of the fruit is not simply left to look after itself but that many organic growers apply a strategy to improve all aspects of production, including reducing the incidence of fruit rots.
What does it cost and how do returns compare with conventional growing?
It depends. As with any business enterprise, the grower decides on the policies and how to apply them. In very general terms the fertility programme would be a similar cost or a small proportion lower than a conventional orchard. The spray programme would be considerably lower and other costs would be comparable. There is the additional cost of certification.
As is generally the case within the industry returns are quite variable. Export markets have returned from about the same as conventional and up to 20% premium. Local market returns are not analysed, it is generally felt that growers get a moderate premium of 10% to 20% over conventional fruit.
Where do I go to for advice?
The conventional avocado industry has a strong support service offering technical advice for growers. The same level of service is not available in the organic sector; however, there are some people offering advice as well as a community of growers working together to continuously improve the collective knowledge. See also the recommended reading list.
Is there data to prove that organics works?
There is a growing body of information across agricultural and horticultural sectors that show organic systems can and do deliver results on a number of fronts. Farmers and growers make comments that tell of improved plant and animal health, reducing pest issues as the system develops, better tasting food that stores better, less demand for irrigation, reduced costs and a great deal more job satisfaction. But that is what the growers say. Some scientists support all of these improvements as well as increases in nutritional density while others hold the opinion that none of these improvements have been validated. What is without doubt is that the field of organic research has been resourced at a very low level.