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NZ kiwifruit industry needs to manage its growth as constraint pressures emerge, ANZ says

Friday 2nd February 2018

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 New Zealand's kiwifruit industry needs to manage its ambitious growth plans to ensure there are enough workers and packing plants, and to be aware of rising input prices, ANZ Bank economists say.

Kiwifruit is New Zealand's fastest-growing horticultural export and the Ministry for Primary Industries is forecasting more growth in the next two years, with exports to reach $1.8 billion in 2019. Zespri is aiming for $4.5 billion of global sales by 2025. In the next five years, the monopoly export authority plans to release 3,750 hectares of licences for its more profitable, sweeter SunGold variety. A Waikato University study last year for Zespri estimated the kiwifruit sector would create 29,000 new jobs by 2030 and add an annual $3.5 billion to the economy. Growth would come from gold kiwifruit.

An ANZ Bank report on kiwifruit as an investment proposition outlines challenges the industry faces in its growth, including the ability to hire enough workers and manage price increases for inputs such as pollination, fertiliser and weed control

"After a strong recovery from Psa, the industry is going through a renewed growth phase," said Lorraine Mapu, ANZ's regional manager, commercial and agri.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme administered by Immigration New Zealand is "vitally important", the report says. In 2016 the RSE cap was lifted to 10,500 from 9,500 but most of the overseas workers work for apple growers or in vineyards, with kiwifruit accounting for about 10 percent of seasonal workers, it said.

"There is a potential risk that the government may review the RSE cap and restrict labour supply," the report says. At the same time, wages, which make up 50 to 55 percent of direct growing costs, will continue rising as a result of the government's pledge to increase the minimum wage to $20 an hour by 2020.

"This will have a financial impact across most orchards with the first of a series of staged increases set to occur in April 2018," it said. "As the industry grows and existing orchards increase in size, there will be a higher demand for seasonal staff. With more area to harvest, prune and spray, and a shortage of seasonal workers, this may result in an impact to the cost of labour."

While automation will alleviate some of the pressure, it "is not a problem solver to manage the lack of labour supply today," it said.

Packhouses had so far coped well with a growing industry but will need additional capital - from debt, existing shareholders or new sources - to keep coping and that's likely to see more pricing pressure on packing costs, ANZ says.

Rootstock supplies are also likely to come under pressure. Of the 750ha of licences to be released this year, ANZ said 140,000 plants will be needed, assuming greenfield conversions account for half of the new hectares.

The report also sets out the economic case for greenfield developments and conversions from green to gold fruit on existing orchards. Greenfield orchards needed enough capital to manage a typical six-year delay before 100 percent yield was reached on an orchard gate return (OGR) basis. A conversion to gold from green takes about seven years to return to economic breakeven, taking into account lost production and conversion costs. 

ANZ says growers will also have to cope with impact of the government's pledge to target zero carbon emissions by 2050, which may have implications for access to water resources and potential consequences for profitability.

In the peak growing region of the Bay of Plenty, labour requirements would add strain to an already stretched housing market and clog roads including those leading to Port of Tauranga, it says.

(BusinessDesk)

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