Plant & Food data show the value of NZ horticulture climbs to $8.8 billion

New Zealand horticulture had another record-breaking year in 2017, when it was valued at $8.8 billion, up $100 million from 2016, and exported produce valued close to $5.12 billion, up $14 million.

According to the latest Fresh Facts, an industry annual published by Plant & Food Research, horticultural produce accounted for 10.3% of New Zealand’s merchandise export income in the year to June 2017.

The growth was driven by increases in the export values of fresh and processed fruit (excluding wine), from $2.78 billion to $2.82 billion, and fresh and processed vegetables, from $0.61 billion to 0.62 billion.

Kiwifruit continued to be the nation’s top horticultural export at $1.66 billion, accounting for 33% of the total export value. It was followed by wine at $1.54 billion, 30% of the total export value.

New Zealand horticultural produce was exported to 128 countries, with five markets—Australia, Continental Europe, the USA, Japan and China—taking up more than two-thirds of the total exports. Exports to Asia reached $1.95 billion, twice as much as any other continent/region.

“The success of New Zealand horticulture is built on its well-earned reputation of delivering high quality and premium products to the overseas markets,” says David Hughes, chief executive of Plant & Food Research.

“The horticultural industry must keep up the quality and innovate to offer new products that meet international market needs in order to secure our position.

“Adopting new technologies and best practices to minimise environmental and social impact of the production process will further strengthen our clean, green image in the global marketplace.”

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive of Horticulture New Zealand, said his organisation is confident the industry will meet the $10 billion by 2020 target “as long as we  are  committed to listening to local and overseas consumers and offering products they want and desire.”

To view the latest issue of Fresh Facts and all previous issues, visit

Key facts 

  • Produce from the New Zealand horticultural sector exceeded $8.8 billion in the year to 30 June 2017.
  • The total value of horticultural exports was $5.12 billion in 2017, an increase of 91% ($2.7 billion) from 2007.
  • New Zealand’s biggest horticultural export was kiwifruit, worth $1.66 billion. Other key exports were wine ($1.54 billion), apples ($691 million), and avocado ($147.5 million).
  • Avocado export demonstrated significant growth from $82 million in 2016 to $147 million in 2017, likely in part to the biennial nature of avocado production. In 2015 avocado export was valued at $115 million.
  • Exports to five markets: Australia, Continental Europe, the USA, Japan and China accounted for almost $3.5 billion and 67.7% of the total exports.
  • The diversity of horticultural exports is apparent in the 22 categories exported to Asia, each between $5 million and over $1 billion, and 13 categories to Australia, each between $7 million and over $440 million (fob) value.
  • More than $200 million worth of natural honey was exported to Asia and Australia.
  • Source: Plant & Food Research 


    New Zealand and India building stronger horticultural relationships

    A new partnership has been announced between New Zealand and the State of Himachal Pradesh under the Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Development Project which targets smallholder farmers in northern India.

    The Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Development project aims to be the start of a much broader relationship with New Zealand horticulture.

    The New Zealand team working on the project includes scientists from Plant & Food Research, Agfirst Engineering, Fruition Horticulture and other New Zealand-based specialists with additional support from the New Zealand pipfruit industry body, New Zealand Apples & Pears and New Zealand Government agencies.

    The World Bank-funded three-year project will work with the horticulture industry in the Himachal Pradesh province to improve production of the region’s key fruit crops, including apples, summerfruit, and tropical fruits such as mango.

    Located in the north-western Himalayan region of India, about 90% of the HP population lives in rural areas and is dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Apples are the main crop, accounting for 85% of fruit production in the area and about 30% of India’s total apple production.

    New Zealand Apples & Pears chief executive Alan Pollard said the industry is pleased to be contributing to these important goals of creating more jobs and better livelihoods for the people of Himachal Pradesh.

    “New Zealand’s apple and pear industry has the highest productivity in the world, averaging 65 metric tonnes per hectare per annum which is more than 50% higher than our nearest competitor.

    “World best production and post-harvest systems and practices have earned the industry an international reputation for producing fruit of the highest quality.

    “This project will provide growers in the Himachal Pradesh province of India with access to New Zealand expertise to help improve the productivity of their orchards in terms of both yield and quality, and subsequently generate better returns for their growers,” Mr Pollard said.

    Plant & Food Research chief executive Peter Landon-Lane said Plant & Food Research is pleased to be involved in the Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Development Project.

    “Our scientists have been working with the apple industry for more than 50 years and our research has contributed to the excellent reputation of New Zealand produce globally. To be able to share this knowledge to support communities in developing regions is very rewarding.

    “It also allows our scientists to extend their understanding of how crops grow in different geographic regions and environments, and supports the relationship between New Zealand and India, and their respective apple industries,” he said.

    New Zealand’s entire horticultural sector is globally renowned for being innovative, sophisticated, and highly productive, backed by sound science and world best practices.

    The New Zealand apple industry, while producing only 0.5% of the world’s apples, has been named the world’s most competitive apple industry for the past three years (Belrose Group, World Apple Review). From annual production of approximately 550,000 tonnes, two thirds of the crop is exported to over 80 countries around the world.

    The new project will use New Zealand expertise to develop orchard management techniques, irrigation and water harvesting that will improve production and quality of fruit crops grown in the Himachal Pradesh province. It will also lower pesticide use through improved pest and disease management, thereby contributing to environmental outcomes as well.


    Horticulture industry can celebrate strong export growth

    Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy is welcoming a new report showing a 40 per cent growth in horticulture export earnings since 2014.

    The strong results are highlighted in Horticulture New Zealand and the New Zealand Horticulture Export Authority’s report New Zealand Horticulture – Barriers to Our Export Trade which is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and NZ Fruitgrowers Charitable Trust.

    “Horticulture is a star performer of the New Zealand economy with export revenue just under $5 billion, making it one of our most important industries,” says Mr Guy.

    “The report highlights that tariffs on exported produce have come down by 22 percent since 2012, which is good news but there is still more to be done. Reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers are a big priority for the Government.

    “Horticulture has a goal of being a $10 billion industry by 2020 and they are well on the way. They are now New Zealand’s fourth largest export industry and employ 60,000 people in New Zealand.

    “It’s very fitting for this report to be released on the day when Horticulture New Zealand is celebrating 100 years of representing growers, starting as the New Zealand Fruitgrowers Federation in 1916.

    This week the Government hopes the Horticulture Export Authority Amendment Bill will pass it’s final reading in Parliament, providing a framework for producers and exporters to collaborate in export marketing their products.”

    The Executive Summary of the report is available on the Horticulture Export Authority website.

    Plant & Food Research awarded MBIE grant for Zespri kiwifruit research

    Plant & Food Research has been awarded $1 million from the Ministry of Business & Innovation’s High Value Nutrition fund to work with Zespri on research into whether kiwifruit can help better manage blood glucose levels.

    Zespri General Manager Marketing and Innovation Carol Ward says the funding will help further develop Zespri’s health strategy, providing scientific evidence of kiwifruit’s health benefits to underpin consumer communications around the world.

    “This funding is great news: the results of this work could well give our consumers another reason to buy Zespri Kiwifruit, as kiwifruit volumes increase strongly. This will help grow our industry’s export revenue and returns to New Zealand growers,” says Ms Ward.

    Dr Juliet Ansell, Zespri Innovation Leader for Health and Nutrition, says Zespri Kiwifruit has powerful health benefits and this is the basis of the company’s consumer communications in the 54 countries around the world in which Zespri Kiwifruit is sold.

    “Our research shows that the more consumers know about the health benefits of kiwifruit, the more likely they are to see kiwifruit as an important nutritious addition to the daily diet. We want to build on our base of loyal, regular consumers who value the health benefits they get from eating kiwifruit,” says Dr Ansell.

    Health marketing is increasingly important when taking into account global trends towards an aging population, rising middle classes in developing countries and increasing interest in healthy living.

    Zespri has invested in health and nutrition research over the years and lodged the world’s first self-substantiated health claim for fresh fruit – and first-ever in NZ – under the Food Standards Australia-New Zealand (FSANZ) Standard for Nutrition, Health and Related Claims.

    This funding will be made available over three years.


    UC research could offer NZ potato growers an edge

    New Zealand potato growers could gain a new marketing edge thanks to a line of potatoes developed by University of Canterbury researchers.

    UC Biotechnologists Dr David Leung and Dr Seyedardalan (Ardi) Ashrafzadeh have developed potato plants that are potentially resistant to cadmium, a highly toxic metal found in soil which is harmful to crops and can contribute to health issues in humans.

    Biotechnology lecturer Dr Leung says their potatoes have a trait that could solve this problem and enhance New Zealand’s best potato varieties.

    “New Zealand growers are competing with growers from all over the world. Imagine the difference that adding a cadmium-resistant trait could have on the market for our potatoes. It could certainly give our crops a marketing edge,” he says.

    Usually potatoes accumulate cadmium from soil. This has negative effects on the quality of the crop and also means that the cadmium, a known carcinogen, is passed onto the consumer. Over time this can contribute to health issues, including cancer.

    Dr Leung and Dr Ashrafzadeh have discovered a potentially cadmium-resistant line of potatoes by exposing potato cells to the toxin and monitoring cells for damage. The cells that survive the process may have natural mutations that make them resistant to cadmium exposure. These cells are then grown into potato plants for further testing.

    Plant biotechnologist Dr Ashrafzadeh explains that stressing the plant cells in this way mirrors the process that would occur in nature.

    “Stress is a principle that causes plants to slowly change over time. We are using stress in a lab context to push plants to evolve. We’re effectively helping them to develop a natural advantage faster,” he says.

    The next phase of testing will involve growing potato plants in contaminated soil to discover how cadmium-resistant they are and determine their cadmium accumulation potential in a real world situation.

    Ultimately, Dr Leung and Dr Ashrafzadeh believe that this line of potatoes could make a difference in the New Zealand potato market by adding one more unique factor to our best-selling varieties.


    International potato expert praises NZ research

    International potato industry expert Professor Gary Secor has praised New Zealand’s world-leading research, during a visit to speak at the Potatoes New Zealand Inc annual conference.

    Professor Secor, of the Plant Pathology Department at North Dakota State University, was a keynote speaker at the two day event in Ashburton.

    “New Zealand has world recognised research, including on powdery scab and psyllids and zebra chip, and a good potato breeding programme that serves the industry well,” said Professor Secor.

    “I have read several research publications that have established New Zealand as a leader in potato research.”

    Powdery scab is a disease of potato tubers. The psyllid, a North American insect was first found in New Zealand in 2006. It eats plant leaves such as those of the tomato and potato, reducing yield, and releases a bacteria which can result in a zebra stripe type discoloration in potato tubers.

    Dr Secor’s presentation to the conference included an ‘all of industry’ session on disease management and a workshop with seed growers on seed development and handling.

    Fellow speakers included Ron Greentree, from New South Wales, Australia’s single biggest wheat farmer.

    Researchers discover how bacteria sweet-talk their way into plants

    A University of Otago researcher is part of an international team of scientists that has discovered how legumes, which include important agricultural species such as white clover, are able to tell helpful and harmful invading bacteria apart.

    Their study, which changes the understanding of carbohydrates as signal molecules, is newly published in the leading international journal Nature. The research has implications for improving the understanding of how other plant and animal species interact with bacteria in their environment and defend themselves against hostile infections.

    Clover and other legumes form a unique symbiotic relationship with bacteria known as rhizobia, which they allow to infect their roots. This leads to root nodules being formed in which the bacteria convert nitrogen from the air into ammonia that the plant can use for growth.

    Exactly how these plants are able to distinguish and welcome in compatible rhizobia for this self-fertilising activity—while halting infection by incompatible bacteria—has been a mystery.

    Now Otago’s Professor Clive Ronson and colleagues in a research team led by Professor Jens Stougaard in Denmark at the Centre for Carbohydrate Recognition and Signalling (CARB) have determined how legumes perceive and distinguish compatible bacteria based on the exopolysaccharides featuring on the invading cells’ surfaces.

    Professor Ronson says that exopolysaccharides, along with other carbohydrates, are found on the cell surfaces of all organisms.

    “Bacteria display a wide selection of polysaccharides, and many of these are important for cell-to-cell interactions, immune evasion, pathogenesis, biofilm formation and colonisation of ecological niches,” he says.

    They found that a membrane-bound receptor kinase (a type of enzyme) encoded by the Epr3 gene binds directly with exopolysaccharides and regulates beneficial bacteria’s passage through the plant’s epidermal cell layer.

    “Now that we have identified this key mechanism that allows a host organism to distinguish friendly bacteria from those that cause disease, this opens up exciting new research avenues across a number of fields,” says Professor Ronson.

    Microbiome studies in plants, animals and humans are some of the areas that will benefit from the new discovery. The mechanism governing microbiota colonisation of hosts is poorly understood and the identification of an exopolysaccharide receptor is likely to inspire new approaches to understand the interaction between multicellular organisms and microbes, he says.

    CARB is a centre of excellence funded by the Danish National Research Foundation – with researchers from Denmark (Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen) and New Zealand (University of Otago). In addition the collaboration involved researchers from the USA (the Centre for Complex Carbohydrate Research in Georgia).