Jason Fruean keeps an eye on blackcurrants as they come off
the rollers used to separate leaf material. Photo by
It has been an early harvest for Mid Canterbury
blackcurrant growers because of favourable weather conditions.
Three huge harvesters were at work on Matamua Farm, at
Winchmore, near Ashburton, bringing in the crop from the
130ha in blackcurrants.
Manager James Tavendale said the fruit was harvested in a
While high winds and hail had caused some isolated damage,
the season had been ''pretty favourable'', he said.
''The cooler conditions over January have suited us down to
The majority of the 8000 tonnes of blackcurrants produced in
New Zealand are grown in the South Island because of the
crop's preference for cold winters. The world's production is
around 150,000 tonnes, mainly grown in Poland.
The Canterbury region has about 15 to 20 growers, most of the
rest of the country's 40 growers being in Nelson.
Fruit can be harvested from 18-month-old bushes, while some
plants on the Winchmore farm are between 15 and 30 years old.
The property trucks most of its crop to Nelson for processing
into concentrate, with a smaller quantity going to Timaru and
some exported directly.
The business employs three fulltime staff and up to 20
seasonal workers during harvest, many of whom have been
returning for years.
Ground-breaking and ongoing research was being conducted by
Plant and Food Research, Mr Tavendale said. Clinical trials
have shown that eating blackcurrants can reduce muscle
stiffening and fatigue, increase blood flow and improve
kidney and eye function.
Other research includes studies which show the natural
chemicals found in blackcurrants may help balance the impact
exercise can have on the body, and blackcurrant extract can
help people stay more alert and reduce mental fatigue.
Scientists are analysing New Zealand-grown berryfruit to
identify and isolate the compounds that deliver additional
benefits to consumers. This knowledge is being used in both
the development of functional ingredients and the breeding of
new varieties with optimal concentrations of healthy
''We are in the health and wellbeing industry,'' Mr Tavendale
''Nutraceuticals will be the growth market,'' Mr Tavendale
The industry had worked hard to protect its product when it
was traded as a commodity, he said.
Most of the fruit is processed into drinks, the two largest
buyers being the New Zealand Blackcurrant Co-operative Ltd
and the makers of Ribena. Around 85% of production is
Until September last year, Ribena was produced by
GlaxoSmithKline, but the brand has been bought by the
Japanese multinational Suntory.
The harvesters will not be idle once the crop is in as the
business has contracts to harvest grapes in Marlborough and
- Maureen Bishop.