Apples and pears have been grown in New Zealand since Europeans first settled in the country. The missionary Samuel Marsden introduced the first apple and pear trees in 1819, and one pear tree from that original planting was still growing in Kerikeri in 2008.
Although the fruit were initially grown for domestic consumption, pipfruit growers were quick to realise the export potential. The first export apples were sent from Christchurch to Chile in 1888, and exports to the UK began in the 1890s, although quantities were small.
Getting the pip
The term ‘pipfruit’ refers to apples and pears, because of the small hard seeds (pips) in the centre of the fruit.
Areas of production
In 1915 an advertisement for land in Nelson promised a bright future for apple growers: ‘The new industry which assures profit, pleasure, health and happiness. Fruit growing is the best paying branch of farming. Growing apples for export is the best paying branch of fruit growing.’ 1 Many people speculated in orchards around that time. Not all were successful, but Nelson did become one of the main areas of pipfruit production. In 1966 it contributed about two-thirds of New Zealand’s apple exports.
Since then, there has been considerable expansion in Hawke’s Bay. In 2008, over half the national export crop came from Hawke’s Bay and one-third from Nelson. The other main areas were Central Otago and Waikato.
About 60% of New Zealand’s pipfruit crop is exported, 12% is consumed domestically, and the rest is processed, mainly into juice. The annual export value of pipfruit between 2000 and 2006 was around $400 million.
In 2006, world apple production was about 60 million tonnes, of which New Zealand contributed around 500,000 tonnes. However, most of the world’s apples are consumed in the country of origin. New Zealand produces around 5% of the global trade in apples.
New Zealand pear exports are much smaller, ranging from 2,500 to 9,300 tonnes between 2001 and 2004. Worldwide, around 18 million tonnes of pears are produced. New Zealand’s pear exports in 2004 were worth $9 million.