In 2007 there were about 350 growers cultivating just over 2,200 hectares of fruit trees. Very few growers produce just one type of fruit – most grow three or four varieties. For Hawke’s Bay growers, stone fruit is a secondary crop, with pipfruit providing most of their income. In Central Otago, however, stone fruit is the primary crop for most growers.
Summerfruit New Zealand
In the early 1980s the stone fruit industry adopted the name ‘summerfruit’, and Australia and the US have also adopted the name. Summerfruit New Zealand was established in July 1994 to promote and manage the industry. The organisation is funded by a levy, which all growers pay as a percentage of their sales. The levy funds industry activities such as communications (including a website and magazine), researching, exploring new markets and breeding new varieties.
One of the most successful industry-funded research programmes adopted by growers is an integrated pest management programme called SummerGreen. Since 1997 the industry has invested about $1.5 million into research and development in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Biosecurity New Zealand.
The programme focuses on reducing agrichemical use, monitoring insects, and controlling pests and diseases. The SummerGreen programme conducts workshops and regular grower meetings.
Since SummerGreen began there has been a 90% reduction in the use of organophosphate chemicals in orchards. Approximately 85% of New Zealand stone fruit is grown using SummerGreen methods. The programme is expanding to include research into water quality, fruit nutrition and soil health.
A number of long-established apricot orchards were lost when the Cromwell Gorge was flooded to create Lake Dunstan in Central Otago, as part of the Clyde hydroelectric power project. A small planting of trees from one of those orchards still exists on the shores of the lake between Cromwell and Clyde.
Growers regularly remove old trees and replace them with new varieties. Most stone fruit trees take at least five years to reach commercial production, and growers must manage replanting to ensure continuous returns. The productivity of stone fruit trees usually diminishes after 15 years.
Climate change is a major issue for all of New Zealand’s agricultural and horticultural industries, including stone fruit. Changes in climate will affect the final harvest, and growers’ incomes.
In 2012 the horticultural sector will join New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme, aiming to reduce emissions in orchards and processing plants.