Normally there is a collective sigh of relief as we finish an avocado export season but this year it's a different story. We experienced significant quality issues post-November, especially for our avocados going into the Australian market.
We harvest avocados five months of the year for export markets, and aim to harvest just in time to be cooled and packed, loaded on to the appropriate vessel, arrive in Australia to be cleared, trucked to the distribution centre or wholesale market and be available to customer orders.
Avocados are unlike kiwifruit and apples where they are all harvested at once, then coolstored until the market is ready. The tree is our coolstore, and post-harvest needs to be as speedy as possible.
Another challenge is that the New Zealand growing season is cooler and wetter than growing seasons in Western Australia, Chile, Peru and Mexico — our competitors.
Our cooler climate means avocados hang on the tree for longer — up to 14 months, as avocado trees flower in October, and the fruit forms in November, to be harvested from August to February the following years.
When we harvest in November or later, the next season's crop is starting to grow on the tree, which causes some changes in tree physiology — at least it appears to.
That change impacts quality, and we are undertaking a large number of projects to better understand that change, and seeking remedies along the supply chain to support the delivery of premium avocados into all of our markets.
Quality is a huge part of our offering in market, and growers will feel the impact of poorer quality in their returns this season.
Our message to the industry is that we all need to start behaving differently right now to avoid repeating these poor quality outcomes — that great quality requires adherence to best practice right across the supply chain.
We published a best practice guide for growers a year ago and sadly it seems to be seen as a good read, but not an essential change growers are making. As Albert Einstein said,
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
The fruit fly responses currently underway in two different suburbs of Auckland make nervous reading too.
It's positive to note that it does mean our trapping programme works, and that there are processes in place that are actively and effectively implemented in a very timely manner.
The arrival of exotic pests known to have a detrimental impact on horticulture rightly make us all sit up and reflect on the readiness and response processes we have in place.
Industry is working closely with MPI in regard these fruit fly finds and it's great to see participation by some industry personnel, which increases our capability for the future.
It's a changing world and we all need to be agile and make the necessary changes ourselves to make sure we are keeping up.