First Fresh News

Orange harvest in catch-up mode

THE district’s navel orange season is running well behind due to the impact of wet and cooler weather during the run-up to harvest.

First Fresh managing director Ian Albers said the start of this year’s harvest was delayed by three to four weeks.

“You can put most of that down to the weather over the past four months and a lighter overall crop, especially with early varieties like Newhall and Navelina.

“The crop has been coming in at a dribble over the past two weeks and we are still not up to where we should be for this time of the season.”

About three years ago Gisborne navel orange growers and marketers began adopting a new maturity standard testing regime — the BrimA test.

“It is geared toward delivering consumers fruit that they find appealing and with a taste that encourages re-purchase,” Mr Albers said.

“Past research has shown that a consumer can wait up to six weeks before re-purchase if they have a poor taste experience.”

The test was developed in the United States and has been adopted in Australia and New Zealand.

“Taste is very subjective at the best of times, so it’s not an exact science, but the BrimA test is all about minimising variability,” he said.

“With navel oranges, taste is all about the balance between sweet (the Brix level) and sour (the amount of acid), and this year is shaping up as one where the flavour profile could be best described as ‘mild’.

“The weather has meant that fruit has taken longer to meet the required standard and it’s also making in-orchard conditions very challenging,” Mr Albers said.

“It has been frustrating for everyone.

“But we are getting there. We have a number of growers under way and are expecting the number of clearances to grow over the next couple of weeks. For us and our customers, it cannot come soon enough.

Overall, the total crop was down compared with last year — especially the early-season varieties.

“These do tend to be more biennial compared with the traditional Parent or Washington varieties.

“Our focus, therefore, is how to manage through the lighter supply and still give consumers that Gizzy navel they have grown to know and love.”

Mr Albers said exporting could be a challenge this year.

“Taste and appearance are crucial, especially where consumers are paying high prices for an imported piece of fruit.

“We are making absolutely sure our customers will be happy with the fruit we are intending to export before committing to any large programmes.”

First Fresh has built up a solid market base in Japan over the past 10 years and in China over the past three.

“There is scope to expand but only if we deliver the product they want.”

Source :  Murray Robertson, The Gisborne Herald