The summerfruit industry relies heavily on the weather, which affects all aspects of fruit production:
- Stone fruit requires winter chilling for flowers to develop into fruit (this is called fruit set).
- Cool or windy spring conditions adversely affect pollination and fruit set.
- Warm days and cool nights are needed for fruit flavour to develop.
- Hail storms can seriously damage fruit.
- Stone fruit benefit from dry conditions during harvest. Rain at that time can damage the fruit, particularly cherries, and encourage disease.
Annual production in each region can vary considerably as a result of these weather conditions.
Stone fruit grows throughout New Zealand in home gardens, but most commercial production comes from Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago. Small amounts are also grown in Canterbury and Nelson almost solely for sale on the New Zealand market. Cherries and apricots are grown in Marlborough.
Competition for land
North Auckland growers once supplied the Auckland market with peaches and plums, but urban sprawl has taken over many orchards in the area. Since the late 1990s, cherry and apricot production in Marlborough has dwindled as grape plantings have expanded or land has been sold to property developers.
The domestic market is supplied by fruit mainly from Central Otago and Hawke’s Bay. Nectarines are the earliest harvested, appearing in shops from late November. By mid-December all stone fruit is usually available and supplies peak in mid-January, with the harvest over by early March.
Peaches and nectarines
From about 2000 there was a move away from yellow-fleshed peaches and nectarines to white-fleshed varieties, some of which (such as Coconut Ice) were bred in New Zealand. These are sweeter because they have a low acid content, and are aimed at the Asian market, although exports are minor. However, in 2008 there seemed to be a swing in popularity back to yellow-fleshed varieties. In 2006/7, peaches contributed about 20% of New Zealand’s total stone fruit production, and nectarines 25%. This fruit was almost entirely for local markets.
What do you get when you cross a…?
Crosses between two prunus species are called ‘interspecifics’. The resulting fruits are hybrids and have not been genetically modified. Peacherines are a cross between a Golden Queen peach and a nectarine. Grown in small quantities in some parts of New Zealand, peacherines come on to the market in late February. Pluots and apriums, both apricot–plum crosses, are not grown in New Zealand, though small quantities are sometimes imported from the US.
Apricots are New Zealand’s main stone fruit crop, making up some 30% of the annual total. In 2006/7 about 60% of apricots were exported. Traditionally, they were grown in Central Otago because of the dry climate and well-drained soils – in 1978, 90% of apricots came from there. Since then, they have also been trialled and grown in Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough.
Apricots are usually grafted onto peach or plum rootstocks to ensure vigorous growth.
Plums make up 15–16% of the total stone fruit crop, virtually all of which is for the local market.
Only sweet cherry varieties are grown in New Zealand, and in 2006/7 they made up 8–9% of total stone fruit production. Tart cherries are widely grown in Europe and North America, for processing into jam, confectionary, concentrate and cooking.
In New Zealand, demand for sweet cherries increased through the early 2000s, and peaks each year in the period just before Christmas. In 2006/7 about half of total production was eaten locally. With fewer plantings in Marlborough, most of the pre-Christmas crop was from Hawke’s Bay. These growers have tended to sell locally, but increased plantings and higher prices may encourage exports.
Little stone fruit is now grown for processing, once an important part of the industry. Golden Queen peaches from Hawke’s Bay are canned by Wattie’s, as are small quantities of Black Doris plums. With the closure of the Roxdale cannery, in Roxburgh, Central Otago, in the early 2000s, apricots are no longer canned in New Zealand. Apricots are dried in Central Otago, with volumes fluctuating yearly.