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Avocados causing shifts in land use in New Zealand

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

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.

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.

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.

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