Highly anticipated New Zealand bred apricots closer to fruition

New Zealand’s summerfruit industry has established NZ Summerfresh Ltd to commercialise the first three new apricot cultivars released by Plant & Food Research after nearly two decades of research and development.
New apricot varieties are under trial at Central Otago and in parts of the North Island.

Following its inaugural annual general meeting on August 8, chairman Stephen Darling said NZ Summerfresh Ltd would now transition to a grower co-operative to commercialise the proprietary varieties for export and domestic consumption from late summer 2022-2023.

More than 50,000 trees spanning 60 hectares of the new varieties are under trial in Central Otago on the South Island and in parts of the North Island. Twenty growers, including a mix of predominantly long-standing summerfruit producers and newer growers, are trialling the varieties under licence and have been approved as shareholders. Others are expected to enter the program, which has an open-door policy.

“These varieties have the potential to revitalise and relaunch the premium apricot category on the global stage. Bred for flavour, colour and sensory characteristics, the apricots are substantially better than nearly every other apricot I know of and could be the best in the world. Twenty years of research and breeding between the industry and Plant & Food Research has finally come to fruition. It’s an exciting development for the NZ summerfruit industry, growers, and consumers. The varieties – currently NzSummer2, Nzsummer3 and Nzsummer4 – are intensely sweet with a crisper texture and juicy with a high-colour profile. Two varieties may store longer to achieve a longer selling period and will target export markets. The other variety will target the domestic market. The varieties will span a successive season from December to late February,” Darling said. 

“Markets in Asia, Australia and the United States would be targeted initially. Australia is an important market because our season complements Australia product well. Our apricots will arrive after the local product, therefore extending the season. Consumers in Asia favour apricots with increased sweetness, low acidity and bright colour – all characteristics we can deliver,” Darling said.

First trial volumes arrive this summer
“Volumes this coming summer will be small, with trials sent to key customers and consumers and will then grow substantially as more fruit develops. Full production is expected from 2025-2027.”

Founding director Roger Brownlie, who is also chair of peak industry body Summerfruit NZ and a summerfruit grower, said the long journey to commercialisation was the brainchild of key people on the Summerfruit board in 2001.

“This is the result of much hard work. It has taken three CEOs, teams of Plant & Food scientists, industry collaboration and grower efforts. The dream is about to become a reality. NZ Summerfresh Ltd has facilitated the co-operative, we now step aside for growers to represent the interests of growers and shareholders. The co-operative will give growers the chance to control their destiny and work for a common benefit,” Brownlie said.

Darling said next steps included developing a strategic commercial framework including devising a brand and marketing plan, identifying export markets (existing, new and non-traditional) and establishing optimal harvesting and quality standards.

“We will strive to achieve a consistency of product offering. Our goal includes understanding growing behaviours, the best time to harvest for optimal eating, how we gain access to seasonal workers, and conducting storage and freight trials. Negotiations are underway with Plant & Food Research on a further two apricot varieties. The co-op will actively seek further new summerfruit cultivars with exceptional taste and customer experience for members to commercialise,” said Darling.

Snapshot of varieties:

  • Nzsummer2: Mid-size, orange with a bright-red blush. A classic, sweet apricot. Fruit harvest timing early February.
  • Nzsummer3: Mid-size, reddish appearance, high brix level, has an ethylene-recessive gene that may prolong storage. Fruit harvest timing mid-late February.
  • Nzsummer4: Mid-size, extremely sweet. Will target the NZ market. Fruit harvest timing December.

For more information:
Stephen Darling
NZ Summerfresh Ltd
Tel: +64 27 5899 335
Email: info@aquapr.com.au

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