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Zespri says kiwifruit volumes back to pre-Psa volumes as new season kicks off

Zespri, the world's largest marketing exporter, says this season's volumes are forecast to be back to the levels they were prior to the Psa virus hitting the $1.3 billion industry four years ago.

The season's exports kicked off this weekend with a charter ship sailing from the Port of Tauranga bound for Japan with kiwifruit from orchards in Gisborne, Katikati and Te Puke, which were the first to begin this season's harvest last week.

Zespri chief executive Lain Jager said the industry is forecasting a harvest this year of around 30 million trays of gold kiwifruit, of which 25 million trays are of the new Gold3 variety. Some 4,953 hectares are now licenced under the new gold variety, virtually replacing the previous Hort16A gold variety which was devastated by Psa.

That forecast for gold is up on last year's previous high of 29 million trays and Zespri expects the new SunGold brand to hit 50 million trays by 2018 as it takes a few years for the vines to hit full production and they were planted at various times by growers.

"With total volumes of premium gold kiwifruit expected to reach pre-Psa levels this season and orchard values back to pre-Psa prices, our industry is in good heart," Jager said.

Exports of green kiwifruit, which makes up the bulk of kiwifruit grown in New Zealand, is forecast to be more than 70 million trays, which is around the same as last year.

The top three export markets overall are Japan, China, and Spain. Sales in China have grown about 30 percent per annum in the past decade and are forecast to continue to grow at the slightly lower rate of 20 percent per annum until 2010, when it is likely to replace Japan as Zespri's number one market.

Zespri earned sales revenues of $1.35 billion in the 2013/2014 season but won't release a sales forecast for this season until July. The Ministry for Primary Industry's situational outlook last year indicated that although green kiwifruit sales would be fairly static, large increases for gold kiwifruit would add 10 percent to export revenues this season.

Zespri's February forecast for grower returns is a mixed bag, with green improving and gold way down on the records achieved last season.

The forecast is for a record per-hectare return for green kiwifruit of $53,502 per ha, compared to $42,659 per ha last season. The forecast for gold is $73,744 per ha, well down on the record $90,813 per ha which was driven by supply shortages as growers switched over from the old Hort16A variety.

The PSA virus infected 80 percent of kiwifruit orchards nationwide and is estimated to have cost the industry up to $930 million in lost exports.