Extreme Weather Batters NZ Growers, Causing Second-Consecutive Production Decline

Early frosts, heavy rainfall and anthracnose have resulted in a lower yield for New Zealand producers this year.
Rain and frost has damaged many groves across New Zealand. (Photo: Blue Earth)
By Lisa Anderson
Jul. 31, 2023 13:19 UTC

New Zealand’s olive har­vest is draw­ing to a close, and as antic­i­pated, the country’s olive oil pro­duc­ers have reported a decline in yield and vol­ume.

Frost before har­vest time, heavy rain­fall and anthrac­nose have dri­ven the fall in pro­duc­tion.

With the onset of El Niño, we’re hop­ing for a lift in pro­duc­tion, oil yield and polyphe­nols in 2024. Like the noble fruit, it is best to be hum­ble about 2023 and hope­ful for 2024.- Vintiner, co-owner, Vintiner’s Grove

All in all, yield and vol­ume is down this year for most grow­ers, with fruit being smaller than nor­mal or full of water,” Emma Glover, Olives New Zealand’s exec­u­tive offi­cer, told Olive Oil Times.

This aligned with what she had pre­dicted ear­lier this year. Olives New Zealand will know the esti­mated total yield in September.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

The oils pro­duced are gen­er­ally milder and more del­i­cate than the usual robust New Zealand fla­vors,” Glover said.

Many New Zealand olive grow­ers told her that the 2023 har­vest had been chal­leng­ing.

Late frosts com­bined with a wet and windy spring saw the year start with fruit set lower across many regions,” Glover said.

The South Island had a decent sum­mer, with the Tasman-Nelson region gun­ning for the 2023 best-pro­duc­ing area for both vol­ume and yield,” she added. Unfortunately, other regions had fruit dam­aged with early frosts before har­vest.”

For the North Island, sum­mer was non-exis­tent; even with­out Cyclone Gabrielle, sun­shine hours were well down, and rain­fall was up,” Glover con­tin­ued. Access to the wet groves has been dif­fi­cult, caus­ing lapses in grove man­age­ment pro­grams, result­ing in anthrac­nose now being preva­lent through­out North Island groves.”

She said some pro­duc­ers tried to har­vest ear­lier to sal­vage all the pos­si­ble fruit, and some small grow­ers did not bother to har­vest.

A late win­dow of fine weather has helped some that are har­vest­ing later,” Glover said. However, it is reported olive vari­eties are ripen­ing out of their usual sequence, and some groves have now got flow­ers.”

Birds have been a real nui­sance coun­try-wide,” she added. Sparrows are a nui­sance, but star­lings are our main prob­lem as they fly around in mas­sive flocks.”

Andrew Liley, the co-owner of Juno Olives from the Wairarapa region on the North Island, said they started har­vest­ing in mid-June, slightly later than planned and wrapped up early in July.

He said that even with their fruit vol­ume up sig­nif­i­cantly from the pre­vi­ous year, their oil yield was down, push­ing up their cost per liter almost 50 per­cent higher than last year.

We had a lot of fruit this year,” he said. It was an on-year for us, but sig­nif­i­cantly greater weight of fruit than pre­vi­ous on-years.”

Unfortunately, the yield of oil was much lower than pre­vi­ous years, vary­ing from only 7 to 11 per­cent,” Liley added.

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Earlier this year, Liley told Olive Oil Times that he was unsure if ripen­ing would be later or if they would har­vest pre­dom­i­nantly green fruit. It turned out to be the lat­ter.

Our Koroneiki was har­vested very green as it showed no sign of ripen­ing, and it was start­ing to be taken by birds,” Liley said. Other vari­eties matured later than usual, and we were con­cerned about frosts in the last week or so of our har­vest this year.”

The wet weather we have had all year made access to the grove for the har­vest­ing machin­ery dif­fi­cult, which is very unusual for our grove,” he added. The main things for us this year were the weather, sun­light hours down by 290 in the year and sig­nif­i­cantly more rain.”

However, Liley said the devel­op­ment of El Niño likely indi­cated that the coun­try would face dry weather in the next har­vest and be wish­ing for rain later in the year.”

Meanwhile, the co-owner of Kapiti Olives on the Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington, Diana Crosse, also reported a drop in yield.

production-business-australia-and-new-zealand-extreme-weather-batters-nz-growers-causing-secondconsecutive-production-decline-olive-oil-times

Diana Crosse and her husband, Grant

She told Olive Oil Times that they har­vested their Leccino and Picual at the end of May and their Frantoio and Koroneiki 10 days later.

I believe we har­vested too early, mainly due to our inex­pe­ri­ence, as there seemed to be a lot of olives not shaken off,” Crosse said. So far, we have had a good win­ter. Much bet­ter than our sum­mer and autumn.”

Our har­vest is down this year, about 25 per­cent,” she added. This is due to a very heavy prune (our trees are get­ting too big), pol­li­na­tion inter­rup­tion, the poor sum­mer and our inex­pe­ri­ence as new own­ers with crit­i­cal spray times.”

We also suf­fered from anthrac­nose with the weather we have had,” Crosse con­tin­ued. Interestingly, some of our trees have flow­ers on them, much too early. But we have oil for our mar­kets and are look­ing pos­i­tively for­ward to the new sea­son.”

Another pro­ducer from the North Island, Blue Earth, started har­vest­ing in mid-June, as they were expect­ing to.

We also went later than we have ever done before,” the co-owner Margaret Hanson told Olive Oil Times. Some fruit took longer to ripen given the wet autumn and early win­ter and because we had such a large crop on the trees.”

We were very happy,” she added. The yields were low, par­tic­u­larly in our Barnea and Manzanillo, but made up for with a very big crop, many trees with over 35 kilo­grams. Last year was good for us as well. But this was larger.”

Hanson said they had issues as a result of heavy rain­fall this year.

We are on an old river ter­race, which is usu­ally very dry and firm, even in win­ter. With this year’s rain­fall, the sur­face became soft,” she said. It does­n’t look pretty, but it did­n’t impact the crop, as much was done by machine har­vest.”

production-business-australia-and-new-zealand-extreme-weather-batters-nz-growers-causing-secondconsecutive-production-decline-olive-oil-times

Ross Vintiner

Meanwhile, Ross Vintiner, co-owner of Vintiner’s Grove, said La Niña weather con­di­tions dom­i­nated this year’s har­vest.

As expected, the Tuscan vari­eties – Leccino and Frantoio – han­dled the wettest year we’ve expe­ri­enced in a decade,” he said. The Spanish and Greek vari­eties suf­fered in both quan­tity and qual­ity. Overall, oil yields were down on pre­vi­ous years, again a result of the extremely wet con­di­tions.”

Abnormally wet and sun­less con­di­tions meant lower polyphe­nol lev­els, as pre­dicted,” Vintiner added. From feed­back on oil cer­ti­fi­ca­tion results, a sim­i­lar result has been expe­ri­enced across much of Aotearoa/New Zealand.”

A sea­soned grower of 21 har­vests told me it was her worst year ever,” he con­cluded. With the onset of El Niño, we’re hop­ing for a lift in pro­duc­tion, oil yield and polyphe­nols in 2024. Like the noble fruit, it is best to be hum­ble about 2023 and hope­ful for 2024.”


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