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New Zealand apple and pear exporter JR’s Orchards has begun its most promising season for two years buoyed by ideal pre-season conditions and its tenacity to grow key markets against the pandemic backdrop.

Operations director Jamiee Burns said JR’s Orchards would export some 255,000 cartons of apples during the 14-week program – an increase of 25 percent on its last solid season in 2020. Its ECCO brand is renowned globally for delivering quality apples and pears while its Capital brand was developed for apples to allow a strategic differentiation in the marketplace. It will also market some 10,000 cartons of pears – its small, secondary line – between March and May.

JR’s Orchards grows and markets four pear and six apple varieties to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Pear season began on February 28 and apple season on March 3 with Royal Gala apples the first, says Burns.

“Apple size is up by two counts on all varieties due to near-perfect conditions. We had a mild spring and warm summer. Although we have irrigation, we haven’t used it because natural rainfall has boosted fruit size and quality. After going into the past two seasons off the back of a drought, this is a pleasant change.”

“We can also attribute apple size to excellent results from a new spray applied to the fruit and stem during the growing season. It thinned out bunches when we didn’t have labour last season and, because we’ve had excellent results with size, we’ll keep using it.”

She said JR’s forecast was slightly ahead of NZ Apples and Pears’ predictions of an industry-wide increase of 17 percent on the 2020 season. “In 2021, we had the fruit but only 17 workers (of 70 required) to pick it. We exported 175,000 cartons of apples and the entire industry was down by 25 percent. This year, we’re back to full strength with seasonal workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) Scheme, we’ve grown our markets and are looking forward to an excellent season.”

She said 35 percent of fruit was exported to Europe, 30 percent to the UK, 25 percent to Asia. The remainder went to the Middle East and its developing market in India which is now surging back after a long COVID lockdown. However, while forward-planning had equipped JR’s Orchards to grow its markets despite two years of global disruption, the Russian-Ukraine conflict presented a significant new challenge for exporters, she said.

“With Russia shut, fruit and vegetables from around the world are landing in Rotterdam. This will cause major disruption to supply lines and drive prices down – and that’s before fruit from the Northern Hemisphere arrives. \We’ll be working to expand our customer base into Asia and focusing on Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia until the situation improves.

“We can produce the best crop with excellent fruit size, but we can’t control the global market. Another pressure for New Zealand exporters is the horrendous cost of shipping. Container space is tight and the cost is nearly double what it was last year, which will be a barrier for some.”

JR’s Orchards is the only grower and exporter in the Wellington region and is the second largest export producer operating out of Centreport. In 2023, it will harvest its first Lady in Red apples – a high colour Cripps Pink cultivar marketed as Pink Lady® apples. The pandemic had also forced the business to bring forward investigations into new packhouse technologies such as robotics.

Glenn Baker

Professional writer/editor with 35-plus years experience - including radio copywriting, various television writing/production roles, and writing for business magazines. I have also co-owned a wholesale food distribution business.

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