The first shipment of New Zealand kiwifruit set off from the Port of Tauranga yesterday, marking the start of a season that looks set to see volumes bounce back to pre-Psa levels, says Zespri chief executive Lain Jager.
The harvest began in orchards in Gisborne, Katikati and Te Puke last week, with the first charter shipments of gold kiwifruit leaving on the MV Atlantic Erica for Zespri's long-standing premium market of Japan.
Zespri has chartered 55 refrigerated ships - including five ships direct to Shanghai - and 8000 refrigerated containers to carry the 2015 Zespri harvest to 54 countries around the world.
Jager said the industry was forecasting a harvest of around 30 million trays of gold kiwifruit - 25 million of this Gold3 (marketed as Zespri SunGold) - surpassing the previous high of 29 million trays sold in the 2011 season. The forecast gold volume this season has nearly doubled from around 18 million trays harvested last season.
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"We are also looking forward to another great 'green' crop this year, with more than 70 million trays forecast from a total crop volume of around 108 million trays of premium Zespri kiwifruit," he said.
The Psa virus swept through the kiwifruit heartland of the Bay of Plenty in 2011/12, hitting the gold variety Hort16a particularly hard. Fortunately for the industry, the new Zespri-developed cultivar Gold3 turned out to be Psa tolerant, although not completely resistant.
Jager said the New Zealand industry continued to recover as farmers made the transition from Hort16A to Gold3. Total volumes of premium gold kiwifruit were expected to reach pre-Psa levels this season and orchard values return to pre-Psa prices.
"While the impact of Psa is still being felt across the kiwifruit industry, this remarkable turnaround is testament to the co-operative and pragmatic nature of the industry and the strong support we have received from Government," Jager said.
Jager said Zespri was on track to sell more than 50 million trays of Gold3 in 2018.
The single-desk seller is developing new markets in rapidly-developing economies, including China, the Middle East and Brazil.