Apples and pears (known as pipfruit) have been grown in New Zealand since Europeans first settled in the country. In 1819 the missionary Samuel Marsden planted the first trees – one of which is still growing at Kerikeri.
The first apple exports were to Chile, in 1888, and then to Britain in the 1890s.
Nelson and Hawke’s Bay are the main areas where apples are grown. There are also orchards in Central Otago and Waikato.
Apple and pear trees are deciduous – they lose their leaves and become dormant in winter. Once the new leaves and flowers start to grow in spring, they can be damaged by frost. Hail can also damage fruit.
Each fruit crop removes a large amount of nutrients from the soil, so the soils in orchards need to be fertile, or have fertiliser added.
Today, almost 80% of apples grown in New Zealand are Royal Gala or Braeburn – varieties that were first bred in New Zealand. In the past, a wider range of varieties were grown.
New Zealand grows several European pear varieties, and Asian (nashi) pears.
Fireblight is a serious bacterial disease of pipfruit, and was brought into New Zealand in the early 20th century. Because Australia has no fireblight, it has banned imports of New Zealand apples and pears.
Black spot and powdery mildew are common fungal diseases of pipfruit.
Leafroller caterpillars, codling moths, woolly apple aphids, leaf curling midges and red spider mites are all pests of pipfruit. They are controlled by spraying, or using other insects that prey on them.
Harvesting and storage
Fruit should be harvested at the right time to taste good and last well. Apples and pears are picked by hand, from February to April. They are kept in cool stores, with a low temperature and a controlled mix of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The Apple and Pear Marketing Board was set up in 1948 to market the fruit locally and overseas. Today there are more than 90 exporters. Apples and pears are sold in Britain, Europe, the US and South-East Asia.
About 60% of New Zealand apples and pears are exported, 12% are eaten in New Zealand, and the rest are processed, mainly into juice.