NZ: Avocado growers seek consistency in production for export potential

New Zealand's avocado industry is looking to get its house in order to capitalise on what it sees as massive export opportunity in Asia, but the pressure is on to beat South American producers.

New Zealand exports close to US$40 million (NZ$48.4m) worth of avocados a year, a level that could grow by US$9m over the next five years if it irons out its production issues, according to a report published by the Coriolis research group late last year.

Head of the New Zealand Avocado Jen Scoular said the main issue was irregular bearing, with orchards producing well one year and then poorly the next.

"Without consistent volumes, it's hard for export markets to develop," she said. "You don't want to develop good relationships in the market and apologise the next year."

She believed the export opportunity was even greater than that stated in the Coriolis report, with the fruit increasingly popular among consumers in Asia. Korea, Malaysia, and China were seen as the "next big markets".

China was the jewel in the crown, with demand outstripping very limited domestic supply. New Zealand does not currently export avocados to China, but NZA is in the process of negotiating an export permit.

But time on the clock is ticking.

Central and South American avocado producers' exports are 22 times bigger than that of New Zealand. Most Central and South American avocados are sold to the US market, where demand has expanded at a 10 per cent pace for the past 10 years.

That's expected to last another five years until supply outstrips demand, at which point the low-cost producers will start looking to target Asian markets.

Scoular said New Zealand-produced avocados had the advantage of New Zealand's clean-green brand in the market, but the supply issue remained the real constraint to trade.

So far the industry was looking to address this by reproducing orchard management practices of growers whose fruit bearings were more consistent, as well as looking at pollination techniques, such as replacing bees with bumblebees.

NZA has also applied for funding from the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment under the Primary Growth Partnership scheme, and is working with Plant & Food New Zealand and the Ministry for Primary Industries on research.

Scoular said production could also potentially increase in future, as growers shift away from kiwifruit, which has been hit by the Psa disease. However, higher yields on the gold kiwifruit varietal was slowing the adoption.


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