The total production of New Zealand apples and pears this season is estimated to be approximately 21- 22 million cartons. The exportable crop is expected to be 19.5 million cartons.
There were 3 significant factors that led to the estimated volumes of New Zealand apples and pears this season:
Despite favorable weather in most New Zealand growing regions, hailstorms wreaked havoc on the South Island this season. Some growers located in the South Island’s Nelson area lost 70-90% of their fruit from hail damage. The hail damage was very specific to the Nelson area. In other growing regions of New Zealand, the good weather supported positive growing conditions for the fruit and brought beautiful color.
We are monitoring how the labor challenges will impact the ongoing harvest and overall volumes, and volumes specific to every variety. Maturity, pressure, starches, color, and dry matter testing all provide growers with the required information to harvest their fruit at the optimal time for quality, condition, and flavor. To harness all these benefits there typically are multiple picks on the same tree in the same orchard. This year, it is possible that some of the last picks on Gala, Rose, and Fuji will remain on the tree.
Labor is a key component in the cost of production which has been increasing every year. New Zealand growers are facing some very difficult decisions on exactly when and what to harvest given their labor shortage, all of which has the potential to impact the final actual volumes for the season.
Vessel availability is also adding to the challenges. Shipping lines are informing New Zealand packers that they are suspending service to specific destinations given the complexities of making even close to timely ETA’s. An example would be that OOCL has informed the New Zealand industry this week that they will not take anymore bookings for Europe, and NYK has cancelled bookings and all routes to Asia and Russia.
New Zealand growers have long benefited from a diverse customer base having built relationships with EU and UK in addition to a focus on the Asian markets. Many iconic New Zealand varieties, such as Braeburn and Cox Orange Pippen, were grown with the European markets in mind. These varieties have been updated to include additional new offerings with generally higher color and sweeter flavor varieties to meet increasing Asian demand. Vessel schedule integrity must be strictly maintained to meet customers’ needs and requirements.
Growers continue to harvest and pack early varieties in New Zealand, mainly Gala and in smaller numbers Early Fuji and Beauty. Early reports on the Fuji and Queen being harvested this week is very positive. Gala apples are slightly smaller sized than in past years. The later varieties are expected to have average sizing given intense thinning and favorable weather in most areas.
In summary, the New Zealand apple and pear crops are great this year in terms of both quality and condition. Complexities related to weather, labor, and shipping will be key variables to stay alert to throughout the season.