Kiwifruit volumes hold firm

By Joseph Aldridge

Kiwifruit exporter Zespri is optimistic about the coming season despite the challenging environment the kiwifruit disease Psa is causing and the head wind of foreign exchange.

The Bay of Plenty kiwifruit harvest will begin in the next couple of weeks and the first of Zespri's chartered ships will leave the Port of Tauranga in April.

Zespri chief executive Lain Jager told the Bay of Plenty Times the long, hot summer had been good for kiwifruit growth and Zespri was expecting to export a similar amount of Zespri Green as last season (70 million trays).

Exports of Zespri's organic kiwifruit would increase slightly to 3.6 million trays, however further reductions were expected in export volumes of Zespri Gold from 22 million trays last season to about 13 to 15 million trays this season. The continued drop in gold kiwifruit numbers (exports reached 30 million trays in 2011) was a reflection of the large amounts of infected vines that had been cut out in the past couple of years.

Of the gold fruit harvested this year, about 2.5 million trays will be from the new G3 variety, while 1.8 million trays will be from the new G9 variety.

"They're really enjoying the hot, dry summer because it translates into strong sugars for those fruits and that's a great platform for us to commercialise the products on," Mr Jager said.

"The big issue is how does G3 perform coming into the winter and spring, so as an industry, growers are very engaged with the latest way of growing G3 and particularly looking to that more challenging period over winter and spring."

With 2300 hectares of G3 now planted in New Zealand orchards, the industry had made a big investment in the variety, Mr Jager said.

While Psa was presenting the industry with challenges on the supply side, on the market side things were looking good. A good Northern Hemisphere season had kept kiwifruit sales strong and "we are looking forward to selling into reasonably open markets for this coming year", Mr Jager said.

"On the market side it's quite positive however, like all exporters, we are finding the strength of the Kiwi (dollar) a struggle, and so our improvement in returns came in the face of quite a strong head wind and that head wind becomes even stronger this coming year."

Foreign exchange cost green kiwifruit growers 45 cents a tray last year and would cost them another 20c a tray this year if the dollar stays at its current level, he said.

Mr Jager said he felt a sense of frustration with the high Kiwi dollar but reluctantly accepted Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler's recent comments about the difficulty of lowering the currency.

"I think, realistically, I accept his perspectives on those things because I'm not sure what I would prescribe to provide relief. The only thing I have to say is relief is needed and increasingly urgently needed."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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