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Two Te Puke growers scoop AVOCO's top prizes
14 July 2014

Two neighbouring Te Puke avocado orchardists scooped the top prizes at a recent growers’ conference where it was revealed collaboration and exporting a seamless supply of fruit will be the key to overcoming a challenging season ahead.

Gridley Rd orchard owners Robbie and Julene Moore picked up AVOCO’s Grower of the Year award at the company’s inaugural conference in Auckland this month. The couple, who have a 3.9ha block of mature Hass avocados, enjoyed a successful 2013-14 season, exporting 32.8 tonnes per hectare. Nominated for the award by their packhouse Apata, they also took home the Primor Grower of the Year trophy.

Their Gridley Rd neighbours, Ashby and Linda Whitehead, who pack with Trevelyan’s,  narrowly missed out on the supreme trophy but didn’t go home empty-handed, winning the Team Avocado Grower of the Year award for their seasonal effort which saw them export 31.6 tonnes per hectare.

Judges from the two exporting giants which make up AVOCO – Primor and Southern Produce – took into account production figures, export pack out achieved, fruit size profiles and growers’ accuracy and timeliness with administrative issues.

AVOCO technical consultant Jerome Hardy says on close inspection of the growers’ 2013-14 pack house records, there was little separating the performance of the two orchards.

 “It was very close,” he says. “Both growers are top operators but we had to select a winner and the Moores edged ahead with their export pack out and slightly larger fruit size.”

The Moores bought their rural property 18 years ago and are no strangers to awards. They were named Growers of the Year for 2005/06 and 2007/08 when they supplied Team Avocado but Mr Moore, an ex-dairy farmer, says winning the inaugural AVOCO award is extra special.

“Many growers under AVOCO had a particularly good season and everyone involved, from the growers to the pack houses to the marketers and distributors worked hard to make that happen.”

Their 2013-14 harvest was a massive improvement on their production for the previous season which was severely affected by a polar blast which hit Te Puke avocado orchards in August 2011. The icy blast, which saw overnight temperatures plummet to -5degC, burnt flower buds and split stems on the trees which meant export crops for both the Moores and the Whiteheads were completely wiped out for the 2012-13 season.

“Seasons like that are difficult to deal with but that’s the nature of horticulture,” Mr Moore says. “It was Whangarei’s turn this past season as they had an unseasonably cold spring in 2012 which meant growers there were hit hard but they’re back on track now too. You can do all you can to manage your orchard well but Mother Nature often has the final say.”

AVOCO is a collaborative partnership between previous export rivals Bay of Plenty-based Southern Produce, which includes Team Avocado, and Auckland-based Primor Produce. Working together, the two exporters enjoyed enormous success in their first year, jointly exporting more than 1.9 million trays of avocados. Most of last season’s trays were exported to Australia, which is New Zealand’s largest market for avocados.

Avocados are widely regarded as biennial crops but many Bay of Plenty orchards, including the Moores and Whiteheads, are expecting large crops for the second year in a row. The 2014-15 season is shaping up to be a bumper season across the country and of the 5 million trays of avocados predicted for New Zealand, AVOCO, as the largest exporter, will handle about 3.2 million trays.

Mr Whitehead, who is also chairman of the Avocado Industry Council, says there is a lot of optimism in the industry right now and growers have faith in the ability of exporters like AVOCO to work hard for them in the market to generate a decent return.

“The industry has learned a lot from the mistakes of the last big crop in 2011-2012 when an over-supply into the Australian market caused prices to fall and many growers received poor returns.

“Exporters see the value now in sharing their flow plans into Australia and working together to achieve the best results for growers.”

AVOCO directors Alistair Young and John Carroll told growers at the conference New Zealand exporters would be making history by sharing their export flow plans with each other and with their Western Australia counterparts, who are also expecting bumper crops. In doing so, exporters are aiming to deliver a seamless supply of fruit and avoid flooding the market during key periods of the season.

AVOCO is also planning to manage the large volume of New Zealand fruit by channelling them under the AVANZA brand into international markets, including Asia and the US.

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