Climate and new market opportunities are opening the door to major land-use shifts in the upper North Island.

But rather than the wholesale conversion to dairying witnessed over the past decade, it is the horticultural sector spurring a new wave of land use.

Northland is experiencing one of the most significant horticultural uptakes since much of the western Bay of Plenty moved into kiwifruit in the 1980s.

Pastoral farmers are increasingly selling up to avocado orchard developers keen to capitalise on the region's idyllic growing conditions and the availability of quality land.

"People are good at sharing information in the sector on best growing methods, and it's well worth seeking out as much advice as possible to make the most of any orchard purchase."

Bayleys Whangarei real estate agent and orchardist Vinni Bhula says he is witnessing a definitive move to avocado orchards, particularly in the Kaipara district, and in the Far North around Houhora.

"In both these districts all the properties being developed to avocados would be dairy or dry stock farms, largely being taken over by new buyers who are already involved in the horticultural sector."

He said both parties in the deals are usually in a sound financial position to be making the moves they are, with farmers often seeking a buyer to enable them to exit on retirement, and purchasing avocado growers with properties elsewhere.

The sandy soils and climate of the Far North region lend themselves well to the subtropical crop, ensuring an earlier start to the growing and harvest period compared with Whangarei and Bay of Plenty.

Orchardists establishing avocado operations in the region are conscious of the crop's biannual nature, but he says those that pay close attention to good crop husbandry and tree care can smooth out that contrast to deliver a consistent crop each year.

Avocado NZ chief executive Jen Schuler said the 3700 hectares of avocados are largely around Northland and Bay of Plenty, but the new plantings in Northland stood to add 850ha to that.

She said the industry sits well alongside the kiwifruit sector, sharing packing and infrastructure facilities, while labour employed in kiwifruit can move into avocados during avocado season.

"Growers can expect to see crops come to about 50 per cent per cent potential in year four, and 100 per cent by year seven, so there is quite a lead-up time before we see the full volume come to market."


She cautioned there was still much being learned about avocado production and husbandry in New Zealand, and there was no perfect way to grow the crop.

"People looking at a block should look back four to five years to get a good idea of its true production, due to that variation in fruit bearing each year."

Parts of Waikato are also converting to horticultural land uses.

Bayleys Waikato country sales manager Mark Dawe says the urban creep of South Auckland has affected land values for market gardeners.

"It means that land may now be used for housing, and is under pressure to be built on, but the increase in value also means they can leverage off it to purchase land further south, even in the South Island."

This has resulted in traditional dairying land that might have been worth $40,000-$45,000 a hectare earning a 20 per cent premium for market garden crop land.

"But we are also seeing it on a smaller scale, with the likes of strawberry growers on the edge of Cambridge looking further afield as growth in that town spreads into their land areas."

In the Bay of Plenty the potential for conversion of pasture land to kiwifruit orchards has also just been given another boost, with news that Zespri would be increasing the licensed area it is allocating to SunGold kiwifruit.

The hugely successful fruit has experienced a surge in market demand well ahead of supply, prompting Zespri to increase the area it intended to allocate from 500ha a year to 700ha a year for the next five years, subject to annual review.

Bayleys rural agent Snow Williams said the increased kiwifruit allocation provided pastoral farmers in areas like eastern Bay of Plenty the opportunity to lift their land values by converting to kiwifruit.

"The ability to set up and start earning off orchards is really only three years. Our greatest issue at present is a shortage of listings."