The market situation (late October to late November)
What a change a month can bring to the fickle tomato market in terms of supply and demand. Supply, by late October, was in full swing especially from the new seasons' crops due to the warmer night temperatures, and there were some winter crops still going quite strongly and later than usual and overlapping with the new season crops. There also appears to be more low input growers than before. Are there more of them; e.g. new growers in old greenhouses around Auckland, or more leased glasshouses and cucumber growers converted to tomatoes that the industry doesn't know about?
Demand has not followed this abundance in supply and really hasn't picked up at all yet. With the late spring and the colder weather still around (down here in central NZ anyway) consumer demand is down and folk haven't moved on to the BBQ and summer salads yet.
Consumers also have long memories of the $15/kg retail pricing of mid-winter and are showing a great reluctant to increase their consumption of tomatoes. Also some retailers appear to be taking a bigger margin by holding on to unrealistic retail prices while the returns to growers quickly spiralled downwards. This price gap is continuing. Prices in the lower North Island in particular are under considerable pressure and almost out of control. This could be because a significant southern supplier doesn't yet appear to have a clear marketing strategy in place. That is an unusual situation in this day and age.
Good relief has come early on from our exports where one or two of the large growers have been shipping as much volume offshore as they possibly can to help protect returns to all growers in this depressed domestic market situation. The market in Australia is not a straightforward one by any means and some of the exporting has often been to the detriment of the returns to these large growers when that market, and the additional costs, are compared to the domestic one. Hopefully all growers appreciate this extra export effort.
Tomatoes ripe for the picking! (Part of TomatoesNZ's media release of 8 November)
"Its official - the juicy season is finally upon us, and supermarket shelves nationwide are brimming with new season New Zealand tomatoes. The tomato is New Zealand's favourite vegetable and continues to be one of the most staple and versatile Kiwi meal-time ingredients.
Pukekohe tomato grower and Horticulture New Zealand Young Grower of the Year winner, Ben Smith, urged consumers to take advantage of this special time of year. "It's a fantastic sight to see the bountiful supply of tomatoes on offer to consumers right now. It's a sure sign summer is just around the corner and so Kiwis will be switching to seasonal meals and recipes - and tomatoes are a mainstay of any summer diet."
In recent years the range of tomatoes available to New Zealand consumers has grown considerably with cherry, low acid, strawberry, roma and vine-ripened tomatoes becoming increasingly popular.
Wim Zwart, Chairman of TomatoesNZ, says the plentiful supplies now available are the result of months of hard work and dedicated crop management by growers. "It's great to see Kiwis enjoying the fruits of our growers labour, there is no comparison to New Zealand produce. I urge consumers when shopping to choose 100% New Zealand tomatoes, which are very reasonably priced at this time of year."
Proactive Industry Media Plan
"Tomatoes ripe for the picking" was a test of an idea for TomatoesNZ to trial a proactive media plan to raise its profile in the New Zealand media to provide it with a platform to comment about issues and developments affecting growers and to raise the profile of the industry and its products with New Zealanders.
At its meeting on 23 November the TomatoesNZ Executive agreed to fund (from growers levies) a proactive PR media plan for six months from 1 Dec 11 - 31 May 12. The funding will pay for approximately 10 hours per month of our agency's time to manage and direct the media content.
Separately and as a trial TomatoesNZ part funded (from growers levies) a promotion of New Zealand specialty tomatoes in mid-November in New South Wales (mainly around Sydney), by one of our large growers. This promotion was in a 20 store chain of family owned fresh produce shops using in-store demonstrators. It's been reported as being very successful.
Crop issues identified around the country
Most of the crop issues indentified at the TomatoesNZ meeting were mainly around the psyllids already appearing in tomato crops in South Auckland, Gisborne, Nelson and Canterbury. However numbers, especially in nearby potato fields, are still depressed as a result of the recent colder weather. There were the usual reports of populations of whitefly but these are apparently being quickly brought under control. Some bacterial canker and an unusual root issue in one planting were also reported.
Bio control agent project
Following recent meetings with officials from EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency, formerly ERMA) TomatoesNZ is pushing on with its plan to apply to EPA to import a selected bio control agent, without full host range testing, for use in tomato greenhouses. The EPA officials have been showing good interest in our intentions and want to work closely with us.
While there is still a need for realistic caution with the project most of the original pessimism has gone so we are now much more positive about the chances of success. There is still much work to be done and some unknowns in the process but it will be given the best shot. We need to look more closely at our list of potential agents, get things like the actual NZ greenhouse high day and low night temperatures sorted out so that the short list can be narrowed down even further and the detailed information gathering exercise from overseas commenced.
By January we should be talking with EPA on a more regular and informal basis about our pre application work and findings. Hopefully we can identify a promising suitable bio control agent that will find it impossible to over winter in the New Zealand outdoor environment but be active in the greenhouse against the likes of whitefly, thrips and aphids for the longest periods possible; i.e. a commercial reality. A big ask!
Survey of tomato growers
The HortNZ membership database currently holds the details of 255 fresh tomato growers. However it is some considerable time since that list was examined in any detail to see how relevant and accurate it is today. TomatoesNZ does need to be sure that we are communicating with the correct group of growers and not including more growers than necessary.
All of the 255 fresh tomato growers are being asked to complete a postal survey and to return it by the end of January. They are being asked to confirm or otherwise their status as a commercial grower entity actively producing fresh tomatoes (and identifying any other crops); i.e. paying fresh tomato levy in the current 12 month period, and their area under production.