Industry News

Pressure from other fruit in citrus ‘capital’.

The flow of sweet, juicy Gisborne oranges into the supermarkets of New Zealand is well under way as this region produces more than half of the country’s crop.

But despite being the best-tasting navel oranges in New Zealand, if not the world, locally-grown citrus is running the risk of becoming another Cinderella crop in the face of growing pressure for land from potentially more profitable crops like kiwifruit and apples.

With outside investors looking to Gisborne for early-maturing kiwifruit and apples, the citrus industry is at a crossroads, says Ian Albers, the managing director of First Fresh — the region’s largest marketer of citrus.

Less than 10 percent of the total citrus harvest is exported, despite a natural seasonal advantage New Zealand has with the northern hemisphere.

The biggest export crop is meyer lemons. These have the advantage of being a counter-seasonal, niche product in certain key markets, he said.

Initially, the export of meyer lemons was totally reliant on Japan but they are now going to the US and China. The push is on to find other markets as well.

But in order to go down that same path for navel oranges, marketing companies like First Fresh need meaningful quantities of quality fruit.

“What we need is scale,” he said.

A sizeable proportion of the local crop is grown, some of it very well, on small blocks, which individually do not provide economies of scale, he says.

“The challenge is to bring those small blocks together with a homogenised quality, and with volume that allows sensible programmes with overseas buyers.”

Mr Albers believes there are opportunities for growers and marketers to work collaboratively in order to fill the volumes required for export.

“There is competition for supply domestically but, in the global sense, what my competitors do shouldn’t affect me if we are all working towards the same outcome,” he said.

“It is a challenge but we have to find more opportunities to export more fruit to get better returns and avoid the volatility (in demand and prices) that we get in the local market.

“If we can slot in during the off-season for the Northern Hemisphere, there is a viable market. But we also have to be out there branding the fruit and promoting provenance.”

Buyers now wanted to know about the origin of their food.

“Consumers want to know the grower’s story and know the product is going to be safe and most importantly taste good.”

As well as being New Zealand’s largest citrus supplier to the domestic market, First Fresh is the country’s largest marketer of persimmons.

The company also markets kiwifruit in the domestic market and ships some to Australia.

It is a shareholder in New Zealand Fruits, which provides post-harvest services to the company.

  • Gisborne is the country’s largest citrus grower by a long way. Gisborne growers produce 56 percent of the fruit, Northland 34 percent, Auckland 9 percent and Bay of Plenty 1 percent.

Of the 28,741 tonnes of citrus produced in New Zealand in 2016, 16,171 tonnes were from this district.

About 845 hectares in this district are planted in citrus.

Navel oranges normally come into season late June or early July, are the earliest-maturing oranges and make up about 75 percent of the local orange crop.