Avocado grower calls for action amid tough climate

Allan's wife Andrea, with their daughter Georgia, son-in-law Cam and grandson Archer.

A Coromandel orchardist is calling for changes in the avocado industry.

Allan Dickinson has around 600 Hass trees on seven hectares of his Angus breeding farm at Matarangi.

“Returns have never been worse,” says Allan. “Basically, there’s an oversupply. The New Zealand avocado industry has traditionally relied on the Australian market as its main export partner.” He says in his opinion, the industry has done little to market its produce to the rest of the world.

Allan describes the current situation as a “perfect storm”, with domestic retail prices down 50 per cent on last year. He’s urging anyone considering planting avocados to think again.

“Last year in March, avocados cost $3.82 in the supermarket and this year’s price is $1.95. The returns are pathetic and hardly even worth picking the fruit.”

NZ Avocado Growers Association chief executive Brad Siebert agrees. “Yes, it’s been an extremely tough season.

“Extreme weather events have resulted in a lack of export fruit being available to supply significant volumes to some of our Asian markets, this also meant that some months experienced an oversupply to the domestic market. However, this season we have sent to a greater number of export markets than ever before including the US and Canada.”

Allan says oversupply is driving domestic prices down and export markets aren’t picking up the slack. He says what used to be a modest industry in Australia is now overproducing so that it’s not only supplying its own consumers, but also moving into India and the Asian markets. Allan says our industry’s governing body should have been cultivating those markets many years ago.

Brad says Australia has recently gained phytosanitary (plant health) market access to Thailand and India.

“Our exporters are therefore seeing increased competition in our export markets from a number of different origins.”

Over the last decade, NZ Avocado’s Primary Growth Partnership programme has focused on market diversification, with the development of a wider range of markets being a dedicated focus in the new industry strategy, says Brad.

He says New Zealand is fortunate to have a natural advantage of a relatively low pest status supported by strong biosecurity measures, which ensures exporters continue to have access to over 70 countries.

“Historically, 85 per cent of our fruit has gone to Australia for two reasons; because it is close and they pay well. But a huge amount of work has gone into diversifying and finding a premium window for our exports so this has dropped to 50 per cent in more recent years.

“Past work by the industry as a whole has created market opportunities and this concerted effort to create trade opportunities is coming to fruition now.”

Allan says he is also frustrated that regulation and legislation wipe out grower returns. He says the supply chain is unwieldy and costly.

“With an average retail price for avocados being around $2.16 this year and the grower receiving approximately .42c of that, there is a lot of margin going elsewhere.”

And he believes the immediate future for the avocado industry is bleak. Yield for the 2023/24 season was a total of 4.7 million trays, compared to the previous year’s 7.2 million trays.

“The forecast is that yields will be back up to close that for the 2024/25 season, so the oversupply situation is only going to get worse. We need to do more to account for the increase in production and warn the wider public and potential growers of what’s going on.”

NZ Avocado Growers Association CEO Brad Siebert.

NZ Avocado confirms the early estimates of a higher crop volume for the season ahead, which will mean we have greater supply for increasingly diverse market opportunities, Brad says.

To ensure growers can make the most of this, the industry is looking at all the levers that can be utilised to reduce compliance burden and create faster and easier trade, he says.

“There aren’t many high points when you’re a farmer,” says Allan. “At the moment, there’s not enough support or understanding for those of us who risk millions of dollars to do their best to feed people. We’d be better off leaving our money in the bank and collecting the interest. I, like most farmers, do it for the love of the land and the love of providing top-quality food for people who appreciate it.”

However, NZ Avocado is reassuring growers that its groundwork as well as the renewed focus is about to pay off.

“As an industry contributing only 2 per cent of world supply, we need to look at how we find value and differentiate ourselves; our sustainability credentials, our food safety systems and our pest status hinges on us having strong biosecurity and recognised assurance programmes right across the supply chain,” says Brad.

“We’ve unveiled a new strategy just in the last month that shows how we’re doubling down on finding mechanisms to meet those challenges and create an increased demand for avocados from New Zealand.”



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