Pipfruit sector's future 'very bright'

Good returns are expected in the pipfruit industry this year following a record season last year, Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive officer Alan Pollard says.

Mr Pollard was one of the keynote speakers at the two-day Pipfruit New Zealand conference in Queenstown last week, and visited three Central Otago orchards and one winery with delegates during a field day after the conference.

The conference built on the Pipfruit New Zealand strategic plan, which was released at last year's conference and outlined how to achieve a goal of developing the pipfruit industry into a $1 billion export industry by 2022, Mr Pollard said.

He said last year was a record year for the pipfruit industry - reaching 550,000 tonnes in total production, 320,000 tonnes for export and export returns of $500 million.

Pipfruit was a biennial crop - with a large-volume year followed by a smaller-volume year - but although this year was an ''off year'', exports were still expected to be more than 300,000 tonnes. It was likely that, despite the lower volume, returns would be similar to or better than last year, Mr Pollard said.

Central Otago was an important part of the industry, contributing about 4% by volume and being an important employer and important contributor to the Central Otago economy, he said.

There was a lot of positivity in the industry.

''This is evidenced by the investment by Turners and Growers/Baywa in Apollo Apples in the Hawkes Bay, the successful float of Scales Corporation, and the amount of investment in new tree plantings and post-harvest technology. The industry is going through transformational change and the future looks very bright.''

The biggest growth opportunities were in Asia, but as many exporters shifted their focus to Asia that also created opportunities to fill the void that would be left in New Zealand's traditional markets of Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, Mr Pollard said.

The Queenstown conference featured presentations about new science and research that would keep New Zealand ahead of its competition, new varieties that were coming through Pipfruit's breeding programme and the ''new era of biosecurity which is very topical right now'', he said.

''The pipfruit sector is about to become the second horticultural sector behind kiwifruit to sign up to Government Industry Agreements (GIA), where government and industry work together to deliver the best biosecurity outcomes.''

The conference also featured presentations from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ministry for Primary Industries representatives, including Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy as well as presentations from Bendigo Station owner John Perriam and Wine New Zealand chief executive officer Philip Gregan, who talked about the story of merino wool and New Zealand wine respectively.

''The stories are similar to the New Zealand apple story - that is that nature has delivered us the best growing conditions in the world climatically and geographically. And the New Zealand industry has added New Zealand-developed science, research and innovation to become the best growers in the world producing the best apples in the world,'' Mr Pollard said.

Those attending the conference also visited Jackson Orchards in Cromwell, McIntosh's Orchard in Earnscleugh, the Van der Voort orchard in the Teviot Valley, and Hinton Estate Winery in Alexandra.

The annual Pipfruit New Zealand award for Outstanding Contribution to the Industry was given to Dr Mike Butcher, the technical manager at Pipfruit New Zealand.

''Dr Butcher is retiring this year, but his contribution to the industry is immeasurable and his efforts have transformed the industry,'' Mr Pollard said.

- by Pam Jones