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Fruit of Finest Quality: New Zealand Persimmons Withstand Weather Challenges

May 09, 2023

The persimmon season recently kicked off in New Zealand. Following a series of unfavorable weather events, including Cyclone Gabrielle, which hit the North Island’s persimmon orchards earlier this year, the industry is now attempting to provide accurate crop estimates for the 2023 season.

According to Ian Turk, product group manager at the New Zealand Persimmon Industry Council, while persimmon orchards mostly avoided structural or flood damage, the volume of this season’s crop has been affected. In 2023, the sector expects to export approximately 1,000 metric tons of fresh persimmons to various markets, including Australia, Southeast Asia, Japan, the United States and China. In previous years, the country’s annual persimmon shipments averaged 1,200 metric tons.

“Despite this [production decrease], the fruit quality and flavour that we’re seeing this year is exceptionally good with plenty of large, juicy and great tasting persimmons heading to the market,” Turk said. According to him, Fuyu persimmons, New Zealand’s main exported variety, are sought after in overseas markets on account of their unique characteristics — while being so crisp that they appear unripe, the fruit is very sweet and does not cause a “dry-mouth” sensation.

New Zealand persimmons were granted official China market access in 2015, with the first batch of fruit being sent two years later after inspections by Chinese officials. Following the approach of first understanding the market, a small test consignment of roughly six metric tons was delivered to Shanghai in 2017. According to Ian Albers, managing director of Gisborne-based exporter First Fresh, at that time the industry was dipping its toe into the water to learn about the preferences of the new market. Export volumes subsequently grew to 15 metric tons in 2018, 19 metric tons in 2019 and 45 metric tons in 2020, which accounted for 1–2% of the country’s total persimmon exports, according to the New Zealand Horticulture Export Authority. The following years were defined by complexity and uncertainty regarding China’s market accessibility during the pandemic. As an example, last year, First Fresh chose not to ship any persimmons to China, citing pandemic-related challenges as well as stringent regulations requiring the fruit to undergo cold treatment for up to 35 days prior to shipment.

At present, four production sites and two operators of packhouses, cold storage and cold treatment facilities are registered to export persimmons to China, according to New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries. The Horticulture Export Authority views China as a new market with potential. “Export volumes remain small while the industry becomes familiar with the programme requirements,” the authority’s website states, noting that exports are expected to grow steadily in the coming years with more exporters becoming involved.

Image: Pexels

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