Greenhouse Growing Techniques
Most growers use soil less media, planting into pumice or sawdust filled plastic bags or buckets, or in rock wool or cocopeat slabs. These are all hydroponic or semi-hydroponic systems. Many heat their greenhouses solely for frost protection but most now heat their greenhouses for total environment control to achieve increased yield, a reduction in disease issues, and to maintain consistent quality.
Most growers are committed to year round production (one crop cycle lasts up to 10 months of the year), and utilise bumble bees for pollination, CO2 injection to maintain ambient levels, as well as water treatment and other European technology. Use of biological pest control and beneficial insects is common-place.
Greenhouse production is centred around Auckland, the central North Island, Nelson and Christchurch, with smaller units in other regions particularly Northland and the East Coast of the North Island.
A range of fresh tomato types
Growth in the industry and in consumption has all been based around the rapid rise in the popularity of the specialty tomatoes; i.e. vine ripened, on the vine, both standard size and smaller, and the plum and cherry types.
The range of varieties grown has increased dramatically through the specialty varieties and most are of Dutch origin. Some are traditional types, while others are vine ripened or long shelf life cherry or cocktail tomatoes. Speciality tomatoes include small, medium and large varieties on the truss, tray packed, or loose in bags, plus some small and normal size plum tomatoes. The range of speciality and pre-packed tomatoes has increased dramatically in the last ten to fifteen years. Otherwise the main product is "standard round loose tomatoes". In the North Island, most fruit is picked without the calyx while the opposite occurs in the South Island.
The NZ tomato industry
Large volumes of quality tomatoes are produced in big greenhouses built in the 1990's. There have been few new tomato glasshouses built in the past 10 years. To be able to plant a new crop for a quality yield sufficient to satisfy today's marketplace, the minimum capital investment, starting from bare land, requires approximately $1 - $2 million per hectare.
Over the past 5 years, the area under fresh tomato production in New Zealand, and the number of growers has remained fairly steady. Many growers are small, family-run partnerships that used to produce from older, timber framed glasshouses. However, since the 1990's these have been gradually disappearing as new housing subdivision spread to the rural/urban fringe. The number of smaller growers has dramatically reduced in the past 10 years. Those who remain have upgraded to either modern twin skin plastic houses or Dutch-style glasshouses.
Although the average operation is relatively small in area, e.g. 3 – 10,000 square meters there are also a number of large growing operations, ranging from 1 or 2 hectares through to 5 or more hectares. Two operations comprise 20 hectares of glass each. Larger units may be jointly owned or have investor partners.
To succeed as a tomato grower requires commitment, capital, consistent quality, as well as volume of production and, above all else, an existing customer base. Ideally a grower needs to be of a certain size or either belong to a packhouse or grower group marketing organisation to have the required influence in the market place. There are few buyers and fewer retailers. The supermarket chains dominate, hence the need for a customer base and volume of production (pallet loads, rather than cartons or crates) along with a quality assurance system.
A small quantity of fresh tomatoes are grown outdoors. Fresh tomatoes produced outdoors are seasonal (summer and early autumn) and are usually only one part of a grower's annual production schedule. The traditional small pockets of production continue to exist in Northland, Auckland, in Horowhenua and Otaki, Gisborne, Marlborough, Nelson and Christchurch.
Approximately 50,000 tonnes of field grown, process tomatoes are produced each year, in Hawkes Bay and Gisborne, mainly for processing into paste but with some also going to canning. Volumes are expected to remain constant in the near future with a little over 600 ha in production. Research priorities include integrated pest management, improved irrigation and cultivation practices and research into sustainable land management. The industry projects further value adding opportunities with the expansion of new product lines. Export processed tomato products average about 3,000 tonnes at $3.5M FOB. TomatoesNZ does not represent process tomato growers.