JR’s Orchards bullish on outlook for New Zealand apples and pears despite challenges

New Zealand apple and pear exporter JR’s Orchards expects an increase in exports and, based on pre-season conditions, believes the outlook is positive, despite labor and of logistics affecting the industry.

The company’s chief operating officer, Jamiee Burns, said in a statement that the company expects to export 25% more than its “strong” last season, 2020. That would bring its total to some 255,000 apple cartons. The company also plans to deliver 10.00 boxes of pears, between March and May 2022.

The company works with four varieties of pears and six varieties of apples, exporting mainly to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The pears started to be harvested at the end of February and the first Royal Galas were harvested at the beginning of March.

“Apple size has increased twice on all varieties due to near perfect conditions. We had a mild spring and a hot summer. Although we have irrigation, we haven’t used it because the natural rains have increased the size and quality of the fruit. After starting the last two seasons with a drought, it’s a nice change,” Burns said.

She said JR’s forecast was slightly ahead of NZ Apples and Pears’ forecast of a 17% industry-wide increase for the 2020 season.

“In 2021, we had the fruit but only 17 workers (out of 70 needed) to pick it. We exported 175,000 cartons of apples and the whole industry went down 25%. This year, we are returning to full strength with seasonal workers under the Recognized Seasonal Employers Scheme (RSE), we have developed our markets and we are looking forward to an excellent season.

She said 35% of the fruit was exported to Europe, 30% to the UK, 25% to Asia. The rest went to the Middle East and its developing market in India, which is now rebounding from a long COVID lockdown.

However, while forward planning had equipped JR’s Orchards to expand its markets despite two years of global disruption, the Russia-Ukraine conflict presented a significant new challenge for exporters, she said.

“With Russia closed, fruits and vegetables from all over the world arrive in Rotterdam. This will cause a major disruption of supply lines and depress prices – and that’s before the northern hemisphere fruit arrives. Our fruits are currently at sea and should land in the next few weeks. We will endeavor to expand our customer base in Asia and focus on Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia until the situation improves.

“We can produce the best crop with excellent fruit size, but we cannot control the world market. Another pressure for New Zealand exporters is the exorbitant cost of shipping. Container space is tight and the cost is almost double what it was last year, which will be a barrier for some,” she added.

JR’s Orchards is the sole grower and exporter in the Wellington area. In 2023, she will harvest her first Lady in Red apples – a very colorful Cripps Pink cultivar marketed as Pink Lady apples. The pandemic has also forced the company to advance research into new packaging technologies such as robotics, she said.

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