Horticulture's contribution grows

Cherries are graded in Cromwell. Photo: Otago Images
Cherries are graded in Cromwell. Photo: Otago Images
The proverbial ''cash cow'' is shifting to ''cash cherries'' as primary sector confidence in New Zealand drains from dairy and into horticulture.

Latest figures from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) bear out the shifting pattern of our primary export sector, with our biggest primary export, dairy, seemingly topped out at around $18billion at least for the next three years, meat stuck at around $10billion and forestry down around 16% year on year at $5.8billion.

Returns for horticultural farmers, meanwhile, jumped 13.7% for the year to $6.1billion.

MPI's latest ''situation and outlook'' report forecasts it will move into third place as the country's biggest export earner next year, at $6.3billion.

This is supported by strong demand from Asian markets, particularly for apples - which doubled exports to China in the first half of 2019 - as well as high production volumes for gold kiwifruit and attendant higher prices, MPI says.

Reflecting the trend from pastoral to horticulture, investment funds such as syndication group MyFarm Investments, have shifted their focus from dairy over the past few years, into kiwifruit, vineyards, manuka and even hop gardens.

There is no doubt the sector is flourishing and is destined to do so over the next few years at least.

Suppliers into viticulture and horticulture - such as supply and services company Fruitfed Supplies - are making hay while the sun shines.

The PGG Wrightson-owned business, which services growers of stonefruit, pipfruit, vegetables, viticulture and subtropicals through 15 stores and 48 technical reps countrywide, is a perennial over-achiever.

The business, which can trace its roots to 1916, has shown cumulative growth of almost 25% over the past four years.

Last year, despite some adverse conditions at pollination and harvesting periods, it was still the major contributor to the division's overall revenues of $611.7million - alongside rural supplies, consulting, agri-trade and irrigation.

The company does not break down its actual contribution but acknowledges it is the star of the show.

It was no surprise then that PGW CEO Stephen Guerin, the former GM of Fruitfed, selected the business as a key focus of his presentation to shareholders at the group's AGM yesterday.

He said the development of orchards and vineyards around the country continued to support revenue growth for the business.

''In particular, we have seen significant development in Northland, a region ideally suited to grow avocados, grapes and pipfruit.''

Mr Guerin said that apart from the business's nationwide footprint, the Fruitfed team was also focused on trialling and developing new products before commercial release, for example with spray programmes for horticultural crops.

''During the last season we undertook over 60 trials and 250 treatments were tested pre-commercialistation across our hort businesses, of which around half were proprietary chemistry,'' he said.

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