Richard Mills, Summerfruit NZ Technical Advisor
To sum up the Summerfruit situation for the last couple of months, two ideas seem to predominate; fruit quality and fruit quantity.
I have the pleasure of talking to growers, marketers and retail once a week at this time of the year and so get a reasonable picture of what is happening in order to create the NZ Market Report. This season the amount of fruit offered for sale has been lower than the previous few across all five species; apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach and plum. Apricots have perhaps had the better volume supply in direct contrast to last season.
One of the results is that the price/kg at farm gate and at retail has been about $1/kg better, and at a level the growers tell me is more sustainable, should there be a full crop situation – which there has not been.
The other compounding factor has been the amount of rain. For an area that we consider to receive 800 mm annually, winter dominant, to get 99 mm in December in the dry end of the district is a bit excessive. So, I am not surprised that the pack outs have been lower than ideal and rots have been seen on supermarket shelves.
If we add in an OK, but just, on labour supply then the crop volume is understandable. Fruit that was picked in January benefited from the hot and dry conditions, good crop loads and stronger flavoured varieties, and be an altogether better piece of fruit. We did find some very nice stored Hawke’s Bay cherries at the Farmers Market one Sunday -well done to that grower.
Central Otago cherry supply for early-season non-export fruit was also low. Export demand was strong and the fruit of good quality so was flowing onto the domestic market. Cherries may continue to be short supplied.
Apricots from Hawke’s Bay are well finished so what we are seeing is product coming up from the South Island. Peach, nectarine and plum supply will be ramped up with the good quality mid-season varieties. Our harvest season is not due to finish until the end of February or early March so the clash with pip fruit for pickers at that stage will be interesting.
Well, that was January and it was a pearler. Then comes early February with over 120 mm of rain to date. I am hoping that the commercial growers have done better than my home, largely unsprayed orchard. There is now more fruit on the ground than in the trees without yet reaching optimum maturity. Pluots that are still on the tree are splitting. In a similar vein I have seen a Tatura Star block with 1/3 of the fruit on the ground before anything has been picked.
And yet there is still some excellent fruit on the shelves in the supermarkets, a bit of Hawke’s Bay gear, and a good proportion from Central Otago. The consumers should still get a good experience even if we growers are feeling a bit gloomy.
Changing tack – I am interested in gathering in as many residue test results as possible, even from previous seasons if you can find them. In the horticultural industries a lack of hard data is our Achilles heel and none more so than stone fruit. This data is becoming more and more necessary for submissions to government agencies and for planning processes. Should you share the information it will be kept anonymised and aggregated. And should you need some help with interpreting the data I am more than willing to try. We may even be able to use some of the data to inform which chemistry can go, stay or have a recommendation altered.