New Zealand’s avocado industry has been urged to diversify export markets as production is set to take off in the coming years.
But work that has been done on orchard, in research and in the markets should stand the sector in good stead for the future, she believes.
“It has been a really tough year for growers from a return perspective and the whole industry with challenges of the supply chain, of labour, and of not having great returns to their stakeholders,” Scoular told Hort News.
“Shipping was absolutely tough and expensive and that just meant nothing went to plan. There was a need to be very agile in getting our fruits to our export markets.”
However, Scoular says it was acknowledged the previous four years were outstanding from a value perspective.
“Our expectations go up because we were the only imported product into Australia which is a very high returning market.
“And now Australia doesn’t return quite as much as they have opened up to Chile and are likely to open up to other markets; we are not the only importer into Australia anymore.”
Scoular says longstanding growers have been through years in the last 10 where they didn’t have a crop or they had a very poor crop.
“They recognise that this is one of the risks of horticulture and they make sure in those very good returning years they put some away to cover the years like the year we have just had.
“Those who have been in the industry five years or less haven’t been through that volatility of returns or volumes so definitely some are feeling the brunt of a very poor returning year.”
But there are positive signs for the future.
After previous reliance on the Australian market, the export market was about 50/50 Australia and Asia by the end of November last year, she says.
“One of the positive outcomes of last year was that we put three times as much volume into Asia as we did the previous year and that has been a strategic objective for the industry,” Scoular adds.
“In comparison to Australia, who also had the same problem as our growers did with a very poor value market, they don’t have nearly as much access in Asian markets – so their fruit didn’t have any other home to go to.”
She says the Australian market itself is now definitely looking stronger for NZ.
“There is less volume in the Australian market domestically and our exporters made some good new customers in Asia last year which they will continue to service in the coming year,” Scoular adds.
“And, of course, we can get there. Three of our exporters have just come back from Asian visits meeting their customers again. It was hard developing those new relationships by Zoom last year. That face-to-face is important in terms of engaging with customers.”
Shipping is still a problem and “a very challenging global issue”.
NZ Avocados recently had over 200 growers at four field days up in Houhora, Whangarei, Te Puke and Katikati and they were positive, says Scoular.
“They know they are in horticulture; they recognise there were some positives last year though returns were poor, they know there is some balancing that will have to happen in terms of expectation. But they know they are growing an amazing fruit that is meeting the needs of global consumers wanting to eat avocados from New Zealand.”
The industry is reassessing all the time.
“NZ Avocado is funded by the growers so we need to make sure we are delivering value back to the grower,” Scoular told Hort News.
“We are always looking at the areas we need to focus on. There’s new policy coming out from government on compliance so we are trying to understand the best way for that compliance to be adopted by our growers without being a handbrake on the operation. There’s lot of work going on there.
“We are still working on sustainability because we know customers and consumers want to know about New Zealand’s sustainability credentials.
“And of course, growers like field days – seeing what other orchards are doing and meeting their fellow growers.
“It is great we are getting back into field days. With the lockdowns we organised webinars so we still had some great audiences on webinars and Zoom calls.
“But the numbers of people at the field days suggests our growers really like getting out and being on an orchard to hear about our new research or industry updates.”
Overall, Scoular says NZ Avocados and the industry recognises the need to be agile and cope with changes.
“We need to recognise the number of players across our industry. We’ve got very large orchards and very small orchards and everything in between. Part of understanding the best way forward is to say, ‘are we able to continue to add value to all those sectors or do we need to look at different ways of providing that service?’.
“Absolutely we need to do things in different ways if that will add value to growers.”
Getting More Consistent
A key focus for NZ Avocados on orchard has been on working on irregular bearing and ensuring a consistent crop each year.
Avocados tend to be a biennial crop, alternating between a low cropping and a high cropping season.
“A lot of work has gone into having a more consistent crop so that has been an absolute key focus of our research and our extension,” says Scoular.
“Growers are doing a lot more on orchard and definitely are seeing results from particularly canopy management, flower pruning, maintaining the health of their trees and just better understanding their trees so they don’t let them overcrop because that leads to an under crop.”
She says the development of best practice has helped even out the swings considerably.
“We also have the climatic impacts on irregular bearing in New Zealand so for the last five years we have had significant wind events but not significant cold events which did cause some of that irregular bearing as well.”