New to avocados but no stranger to doing business, Bay of Plenty grower Nick Coughlan believes the New Zealand industry is poised for a major shake-up.

The former police detective turned businessman and grower believes change is coming, and it’s being driven by challenges facing the industry around fruit quality. Science, Nick says, is likely to play a major role in helping the industry transform.

“I’m a new boy on the block but it seems the science needs to catch up a lot more in our industry and give us more solutions.”

He points to the kiwifruit industry’s response to Psa as an example of how science can lead to positive change. “I’m not advocating that we should ever want to experience a Psa-equivalent in our industry but those events certainly drive change through necessity.

“I can see that coming with avocados and I see that as a good thing.”

Nick and his wife Louise, an accountant, are in their third season on their Stewart Road orchard in Whakamarama, north of Tauranga. While still relatively new to the craft of growing avocados, their vast business experience in other fields means they’re not afraid to ask tough questions or search for new or better ways of doing things. 

“I see a lot of opportunity because the industry is still in its infancy in New Zealand,” says Nick. “It will grow and the services, science and suppliers wrapped around it will grow with it.”

Low-lying and only about 10 metres above sea level at the end of Stewart Road, the 3ha orchard had changed hands several times and was under-performing when the couple leased it in 2017. Nick sought the advice of consultants and packhouse reps – people he still relies on for their technical know-how.

“I listen to Lindsay Heard and people like Therese Temple from Apata, which is our preferred packhouse partner.”

Most of the 320 avocado trees on the property are more than 30 years old and are surrounded by established shelter. Previous owners had let the trees grow high and low, but on the advice of experts, Nick has agreed to “take the tops off” so they can be picked from an 8m hydralada. Low-hanging branches were also removed.

“We did a major prune in April after the last crop came off and we’ll do a big prune every year now.”

He installed irrigation under every tree in the winter of 2018 and believes it helps to stop his trees become heat-stressed over summer. He’s also quick to respond to pest threats, based on the information supplied by an independent monitor he gets in every three weeks.

Aiming for consistency

Management changes are already showing encouraging signs of success. In their first season the orchard produced 6,400 trays, and the second season (2018-19) generated more than 10,000 trays from 150 bins. That equated to close to 20 tonne/ha. This season, the couple were hoping to pick about 140 bins.

“I’d like to think we can become more consistent producers,” says Nick. “That’s the aim.”

Competition in the market

With his strong business background, Nick is realistic about the competitive challenges lying ahead for exporters. However, Nick believes AVOCO is well-placed to weather any storm.

“There’s competition in any industry but I agree with the strategy they have to actively work across several markets to build a platform for future growth in Asia, when larger crop volumes exceed Australian market demand. There’s potential for long-term supply at sustainable values in a range of markets. By delivering consistently good quality fruit managed in a disciplined way, we can make the most of these future opportunities.

“The New Zealand industry has got its challenges but AVOCO through its AVANZA brand has done well in positioning itself as our country’s most recognised and reliable supplier of New Zealand origin avocados.”