A vintage spring and summer growing season means the New Zealand apple industry is harvesting some of the largest, tastiest fruit for many years.
"In growing regions such as Hawke's Bay we have had to go back to 1998 to find a growing season as good as this one," says Pipfruit NZ chief executive Alan Pollard.
Apple growers throughout the country are launching into the harvest confident it will be one of the best crops ever, with large firm fruit and "exceptional taste," as a result of a very warm spring followed by consistently warm summer days.
However, the national crop is expected to fall short of last year's record 550,000 tonnes harvested and 325,000 tonnes (18.04 million 18kg cartons) exported.
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A crop of about 505,000 tonnes and export of 308,000 tonnes is forecast.
"The big difference between 2013 and 2014 is the size," Pollard says.
"This year's fruit size will be bigger than the past few seasons and this will be a point of difference for the New Zealand crop.
"New Zealand is without doubt the best place in the world to grow apples.
"Our island climate keeps summers not too hot and winters not too cold, perfect for apples," he said.
The New Zealand apple industry produced 62.9 tonnes a hectare last season. The next highest national average was Chile's 41.3 tonnes.
The industry continues to transform itself with increased planting of high-value New Zealand-exclusive varieties such as Envy and Queen, part of its commitment to becoming a billion-dollar industry within 10 years.