Apple thinnings no slim pickings for grower

By PATRICK O'SULLIVAN


Hastings orchardist Kent Griffiths is making money from a chore that is costing his neighbours money - he sells his apple thinnings while others leave theirs to rot.

Mr Griffiths has a Grow for Process contract with Enzafoods and has sold the thinnings for about eight years.

"Some growers say it's just a pain in the butt, they have their thinners on contract and it is just too much hassle," he said.

"I put my guys on an hourly rate so they have time. I've got Hydraladas [elevating work platforms] with a picking bucket. That's real easy - if you put a picking bucket on the guys, that's just too slow."

Thinnings makes up about 3 per cent of Enzafoods' juice production but they pack a punch - smaller fruit is high in polyphenols (a natural anti-oxidant), also found in green tea.

Enzafoods reports growing interest in its Grow for Process contracts, with growers committing apples in advance of the export season to processing.

It is now an integral part of the apple industry, allowing growers to spread their export risk and improve cash flow.

Enzafoods general manager Jon Marks said process apples in Hawke's Bay and Nelson accounted for 8 per cent of the annual apple crop.

"The process fruit price, along with the increased yield being achieved at a sustainable level year on year, has seen growers achieving better net returns per hectare than the export sector has been returning for some varieties and blocks within the orchard," he said. "Grow for Process helps take the gamble out of growing apples for export and has the added advantage of fixed pricing, with weekly payments and prepayment options to assist with growers' cash-flow."

Mr Griffiths supplies all his Braeburn apples from his 40ha Twyford orchard: "The price started to go down, down, down and six years ago I thought, 'if I'm not making any money out of them I may as well send them for juice'. We couldn't afford to replace the trees, so this is an ideal option - but if the price of Braeburn comes up then I might export again."

Chemical thinning was still necessary, even though thinnings were juiced, he said.

"You have to be very careful - you can go too hard or not hard enough."

He expects more orchards will take up process contracts.

"The money's not bad and it can make a real difference in a difficult export year and for those fruit that just aren't worth exporting."

Mr Marks said interest from growers showed "exciting times" in the industry, with demand and supply increasing.

"We are very pleased with what is a step-change in growers' mindset about processing. No longer are we a second option, we are now part of the orcharding programme."

Enzafoods has increased its market share for pouch-pack diced and sliced apple in the Australasian food-service market and is moving more of the processed product into the retail market as demand for fruit-based snacks grows.

"These products add more value to the input apple, helping Enzafoods to grow and to provide better returns to apple growers. We expect demand to continue to grow as the benefits of the natural fibre and antioxidants in apples become more well-known.

"Studies show polyphenols in apple products reduce cholesterol and body fat. The old adage about an apple a day is being validated by the science, and the goodness of the apple is retained in the convenient processed products." The company is estimated to contribute more than $40 million to the Bay and Nelson.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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