I had an interesting one-sided, receiving chat with a grower the other day. It was a rant about costs, focused on skinning costs out: don’t spray reduce fertiliser, don’t prune, single harvest, sell for cash…
My argument is clear and concise: grow the fruit the market wants.
It gives you more options at harvest time. Luckily, at Aongatete Avocados Ltd, we have a good numbers and figures to back that position.
At present, returns from the market indicate the best fruit is 20-28 count fruit, or in local market terms, 65-100 count. To get this, I suggest you need to grow the fruit rather than starving the fruit.
There are also other factors including wind, rain, pests, vigour.
One orchard AAL recently picked, there has been a significant upswing in the volume of reject fruit.
Thrips damage, fruit rub, leaf-roller and now colouring has all impacted the pack-out and therefore the returns per hectare.
The fruit hasn’t grown and with tight export standards, much of the fruit has missed the best returns.
In kiwifruit, growing the historical model has been to hang fruit numbers rather than size, but this model is changing as the market demands a bigger, sweeter tasting fruit.
I got caught with the drought last year and my returns were heavily impacted.
This year it’s quite different because I spent money on irrigation. I grew the fruit early and I can visually see the impact of lower fruit numbers and bigger size.
This argument also applies to avocados.
AAL grows and manages fruit on many blocks around the Bay Of Plenty. Our analysis indicates that top end growers are getting significantly better returns than the average because they are spending money and dollars on inputs. It is these inputs (pruning, fertiliser, water, spraying) that are resulting in better pack outs, bigger fruit, more fruit in the tray and more trays per hectare.
There is an increasing debate that freelance fruit sellers can return better net per hectare outcomes. I am yet to see this and am happy to take examples.
I stand by my case that, in general, if you want to be a successful grower you have to spend on inputs, make sure it’s at the correct time, and ensure the job is done well.
This year the biggest debate is on size picking. I am impressed with the fruit growth we have achieved with our harvesting strategy, particularly in the fruit size difference between our first picks and our latest rounds.
Size picking has definitely given an advantage and timing has contributed to this. AAL’s early work with Zeafruit and Freshmax on the local market has paid off this year.
Next year, the avocado industry may be challenged with more competition, such as international markets also having access to cheaper grown fruit than we can produce here in New Zealand.
To be successful, orchardists will need to manage their inputs, but make sure they do the basics.
Our top performing orchards (which are also ranked in the New Zealand groups) always prune, always fertilise monthly and always inject once if not twice.
It’s this combination of a focus and sustained vigour that gives AAL-managed trees an early start to the season and a better strong first pick volume.
I recognise this column has taken a strong position but I’ve spend many years growing fruit, chasing top performances and time and time again I come across comments about focusing on costs rather than income. It’s a weak argue and unsustainable.
I’ve seen my crop set and it’s a ripper on the back of a very heavy set last year.
I pruned heavily, in fact three times last year, to reduce stress.
I’ve grown my new flush and have trees that will flower again next season.
I’m all about growing big, ready to eat, yummy, fresh avocados!