Passion thrives for fruit crop

By Carmen Hall

1 comment
New Zealand Passionfruit Growers Association president Tony Wright and secretary Sue Sharp say 85 per cent of its growers are based in the Bay of Plenty.
New Zealand Passionfruit Growers Association president Tony Wright and secretary Sue Sharp say 85 per cent of its growers are based in the Bay of Plenty.

Passionfruit growers have increased production despite facing black leg - which has been likened to Psa.

Black leg is a fungal disease that starts in the plant during a cold, wet winter and causes the vine to keel over in spring.

"I suppose you could say black leg was our Psa but we have learned to live with it and minimise the effect," New Zealand Passionfruit Growers Association president Tony Wright says.

"It's still there and will always be there but we have learned to live with it."

Project manager Lin Pickard says they lost 75 per cent of their orchard in its first year.

"It's devastating but you just get on with it and replant."

The organisation was established in 1991: it has 81 members and 61 active growers - with 85 per cent based in Bay of Plenty.

Volumes fluctuate but the industry averages about 120 tonnes of fruit a year.

About 33 per cent is exported, with the majority destined for Los Angeles and Japan.

"The Asian market could have future potential for us.

"We are also hoping to extend our presence into the US as American consumers are requesting more fruit from New Zealand instead of buying their locally grown produce."

Passionfruit is a lucrative but labour-intensive crop, Wright says.

"We are getting more fruit off the same amount of vines but it's hard work. It fetches very good money. The OGR [owner's gate return] depends on the season but because we don't pick it off the vine and have to wait until it falls on the ground to harvest it can be variable."

Fruit tends to drop during warm, dry weather and close to 40 per cent of the yearly crop dropped over a 21-day period in early February. "We'd prefer to have the fruit drop on a slower rate over a longer period because then it won't flood the market and the OGR remains steady."

Passionfruit returns range from $8 to $17 a kg in the domestic market depending on the time of season. Export tray rates reached as high as $38 a tray but dropped to $16 this season. Unlike kiwifruit and avocados, all fruit is packed by individual growers.

"We have grade charts and books for new growers and established growers to be able to get a good standard. You have control of your product. You know what leaves your property is the best possible standard you can achieve and the Growers Association advocates that."

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