Friday, 22 March 2019 09:06

Avocado scheme going for growth

Written by  Pam Tipa
Freshmax’s Jim Tarawa. Freshmax’s Jim Tarawa.

An avocado investment underway in the Far North will have a better productivity curve than more southern North Island orchards.

So says Freshmax avocado programme manager Jim Tarawa.

The production season is less acute in the Far North, Tarawa told a MyFarm investor briefing session.

In Bay of Plenty, for instance, biennial production can drop from full production to zero, whereas in the Far North there is a much smaller variation between seasons from the peak.

“We are seeing most new investment in avocados is in the Far North; it is a unique part of New Zealand,” he says.

Aupouri Avocados Ltd Partnership, between Freshmax and MyFarm, holds two properties totalling 32ha on the Aupouri Peninsula in the Far North. MyFarm raised $5.8 million last year from 32 investors to buy the properties. In early March this year, MyFarm raised another $3m from the existing owners and its investor database to buy two more properties for this partnership. 

Tarawa says Aupouri, while essentially the soil is sand, has the right mix of environment, heat and plenty of access to water. Most of the planting is going onto a rootstock variety which tolerates disease and water stress. It is all irrigated land.

Because the Far North has a small population base some lateral thinking will be required about how to service the volumes that will come out of the region, he says. 

Freshmax will operate the orchards and pack and market the fruit into new and existing markets. The company is a vertically integrated fresh produce business and has one of the largest fresh produce marketing and distribution operations in the Pacific region.

Consolidating the harvest at Whangarei where a good operation already exists is likely, Tarawa says. As the Far North is an early maturing region, labour may be brought up from Whangarei early in the season. 

Avocado is a sub-tropical plant which will not grow south of Taupo, except for a few parts of Nelson.

Access to water for avocado growing is an issue worldwide. For instance in Chile it doesn’t rain so growers rely on taking snow melt from the ground; but now they are facing challenges about how much they can take out, says Tarawa. In California volumes are shrinking because of insufficient water, Tarawa says. 

“In the Far North where we are growing in sand – I think it has .01% organic matter in it – there is a huge amount of work being done on fertigation (injection of fertilisers into irrigation) and on where you can grow it. You must have the temperature right.”

Tarawa says in New Zealand if water were managed the way the science says it should be there would be plenty of water; the difficulty is getting past the emotion.

Ample water is available in the Far North and water rights are being issued but there is pressure from the rapid development, Tarawa says. 

The region has seen a lot of money invested in avocado in the last two years.

“There will be more focus on the management of the volume of water and the monitoring.”

Once harvested, after 30 days avocado fruit quality starts to decline, Tarawa says. So a longer production season may assist in preserving fruit quality for various markets.

NZ has a good reputation for fruit quality based on the Hass variety, he says.

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