In 2007 there were 900 process-vegetable and 130 process-potato growers in New Zealand. They grew vegetables for five firms that processed them into canned or dehydrated products such as tomato paste, frozen vegetables and potato crisps. The main growing regions for processed crops are Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay, Rangitīkei/Manawatū, Marlborough and Canterbury. The principal crops in order of tonnage are:
- potatoes, 262,500 tonnes
- sweetcorn, 96,500 tonnes
- peas, 63,000 tonnes
- tomatoes, 45,000 tonnes
- carrots, 26,000 tonnes
- beans, 7,500 tonnes
- asparagus, 3,500 tonnes.
Minor processed crops are beetroot, kūmara (sweet potato), cauliflower and broccoli.
Before the 1950s most processed vegetables were canned, but in 2007 less than 1% of the processed crop was canned. Most processed vegetables are now frozen or dried.
Tomatoes are grown outdoors in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne for processing into paste. A few large growers are responsible for producing the process crop.
Since 2000 about 40,000 tonnes of peas have been grown for processing each year on approximately 10,000 hectares. The main areas of commercial production are Canterbury, Marlborough, Manawatū and Hawke’s Bay. Frozen peas are New Zealand’s fifth most valuable vegetable export, and are exported to 35 countries.
Demise of a dynasty
For 102 years the Arthur Yates seed company supplied seed and garden advice to New Zealand gardeners. Arthur Yates, the founder of the company, was the son and grandson of British seed merchants. His children and grandchildren ran the company profitably until it was taken over by ill-fated investment bank Equiticorp, and went into receivership in 1985.
Vegetable seed production
Vegetable seed production is a specialised and expanding sector of the vegetable industry in New Zealand. Some Canterbury growers act as off-season multipliers of seed for northern hemisphere seed distributors. The growers sow seed in fields that are isolated from related plants to prevent pollen contamination of the desired seed crop. They allow the crop to flower and seed, then harvest the seed and send it back to the northern hemisphere.
From the 1990s vegetable-seed production for northern hemisphere seed companies has grown from nothing into a sizeable export earner. Vegetable seed growers produced 4,000 tonnes of seed from 6,000 hectares of land in 2007, earning NZ$40 million. Radish and carrot seed were the biggest earners.