Local apple production looks set to drop by 6 per cent this year because of a cool start to spring, but a warm summer has improved the crop's quality, says Pipfruit New Zealand.
The body, which promotes and represents the New Zealand apple and pear industry in the domestic and export markets, said the harvest of 551,102 tonnes of fruit - mostly apples - started this week.
"The cool start to spring, in Nelson and Hawkes Bay in particular, meant the total crop is down 6 per cent on 2014 and the harvest two weeks later," said Gary Jones, Pipfruit NZ's business development manager.
But he said every growing region had had an exceptionally warm mid-summer, which meant apples had developed a well-rounded sweetness, fresh crispness and vibrant colour.
Pipfruit NZ expects high export demand for this year's crop with about 297,000 tonnes, which will arrive in 70 export markets within the next few weeks.
Europe - which takes about 25 per cent of the export crop - has been affected by the Russian ban on importing some foods from the West, with apples coming on to the market.
"It's made it quite difficult in Europe because there is a large amount of European product - especially from Poland - which would normally [go] into Russia - that has not been able to go there," he said.
"The European market is now quite flat for commodity type varieties."
Jones said, however, that New Zealand had the advantage of supplying into the main supermarket trade with certain varieties, such as Royal Gala and Braeburn.
Demand, particularly in Asia, continued to grow and total plantings increased in the past 12 months by 2 per cent to help meet that.
This year, there has also been a listeria outbreak in apples distributed by a United States grower, which has resulted in safety concerns amongst many importers, particularly in Asia.
"With New Zealand commanding the most stringent food safety system in the world and traceability right down to blocks of trees within orchards, we're expecting interest in our apples to be even higher than usual," Jones said.
By country, Germany is the biggest market, followed by Britain, the US and Thailand.
While the Russian food ban had caused problems in Europe, Jones said, the fall in the value of the kiwi dollar against the greenback had been a benefit, particularly in Asia, where export sales are denominated in US dollars.