Agricultural Trends
Kiwifruits

Super food berry is an export hit

Kiwifruit are packed full of healthy substances, easily stored and really tasty. It’s no wonder, the worldwide cultivation areas have grown over the past few decades.

New Zealand is a melting pot of different cultures. Not only the Māori, but also immigrants from Europe, Asia, and the entire Pacific region have characterised the country. Then it is no surprise that the best-known fruit of the country is also an immigrant: the kiwifruit. In 1904 it travelled as seed to the island, at that time still called the "Chinese gooseberry". Rough skin, soft centre – it fit so perfectly to the New Zealanders, that today almost no one thinks about its origin in China.
New Zealand began exporting the fruit to the US in the 1950s. This was the height of the Cold War and the term Chinese gooseberry was a marketing nightmare for New Zealand’s biggest fruit and vegetable exporter, Turners and Growers, now known as T&G Global.
Their first idea, ‘melonettes’, was equally unpopular with US importers because melons and berries were subject to high import tariffs. In June 1959, Jack Turner suggested the name kiwifruit during a T&G management meeting in Auckland. His idea was adopted and this later became the industry-wide name.

Today, when it comes to fruit and vegetable exports, the kiwifruit is still New Zealand's biggest hit, reaching a volume of over one and a half billion US dollars in 2016. The most important purchasers are the European Union and Japan. More than half of the fruit cultivated today is harvested in China, kiwifruit's country of origin, – although almost exclusively for their own use. Nevertheless, the commercial cultivation of kiwifruit in China only began in 1978. After China, Italy is the second largest producer, harvesting nearly 507 thousand tonnes in 2014. New Zealand follows in third place worldwide with over 410 thousand tonnes of fruit. Chile takes fourth place among the top ten producers with a production volume of 260 thousand tonnes.

The popularity of the kiwifruit is connected to its contents. It is deemed, among other things, an important source of Vitamin C, as one fruit has more Vitamin C than two oranges. In addition, it contains an above-average level of potassium. This electrolyte is important for healthy muscle, nerve and heart function in the body and also regulates blood pressure. Another decisive advantage of the kiwifruit is that it can be kept in refrigerated storage problem-free for several months at a time, allowing it to be shipped economically to the consumer in most cases.

Depending on the variety, kiwifruit are harvested in New Zealand from March and into late summer, whereas in Italy the harvesting season is from November to January and in California from January to May. This insures availability throughout the year. By the way, the cultivation regions for kiwifruit look similar to wine regions. The saplings are planted in rows and, with the help of climbing supports, develop- upward-spreading vines on which the berries ripen.

Kiwifruits

The fruit is picked while unripe. The Brix value, which describes the sugar content in kiwifruit juice, is decisive for determining the best time to harvest. The harvesters remove the stems and lay the egg shaped berries in boxes. It is imperative to avoid bruising during transport. Kiwifruit are individually packed and well secured with plastic inserts to keep them from rolling against each other. In New Zealand, the Bay of Plenty in the North Island, is the most important region for kiwifruit cultivation with the Port Tauranga being the largest harbour.
From there the travel time is three to four weeks to Tarragona in Spain or Zeebrugge in Belgium, and then subsequently, among other routes, over the Rhine to Germany.
In the process, nothing is more important than the correct temperature. Specially refrigerated containers and controlled-atmosphere transport ensure that the kiwifruit do not get warm. As soon as the ambient temperature increases, the fruit ripens within a few days. The consequence: The Brix value increases, which is desired at the latest in the supermarket. Even with the long storage times, kiwifruit are sold primarily as fresh fruit and subsequently peeled or consumed with a spoon. However, the skin is also edible. The Chinese process 20 to 30 percent of the fruit into juice, marmalades, syrup and dried fruit, among other products.

The victory march of the kiwifruit is unbroken and is currently picking up significant momentum again. From 2014 to 2015, the production volume alone in New Zealand increased by approximately 30 percent, and experts predict that this trend will continue.
Credit is mostly due to a new variety, which is referred to as the ‘golden kiwi’ because of its yellow flesh. It is lower in acid than its green relative, thereby gentle on the stomach and sweeter tasting.
This fruit was cultivated in New Zealand, where its growing region has grown to about one fifth of the total kiwi cultivation area. What’s more, the Chinese have introduced a kiwi with red flesh to the market which is even sweeter than the yellow flesh variety, although they have not yet distributed it on a large scale. Zespri have also launched the red kiwi in New Zealand in 2017.
Taste is not the only important criteria for new varieties. The fruit's resistance to bacteria like pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (PSA), which originates in China, is also decisive. Recently, success has been achieved to this end with new varieties. There are new varieties on the market, which are, as far as possible, resistant to PSA, such as the Gold3, marketed under the names ENZAGold and SunGold. Suitable names, since the kiwifruit is, without a doubt, even today a golden treasure to the New Zealanders.

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What is kiwifruit cancer?

The bacteria pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (PSA), originating in China, was first seen in Europe in 1993 and has caused serious damage over the past few years to kiwifruit production around the globe. Entire plantations of stock died off. During the harvest period of 2013/2014, production of the gold kiwifruit collapsed – the harvest volumes went down by 55 percent. The bacterium attacks buds and blossoms in the spring, causing a brown discolouration. Even the leaves of the plant get brown spots, and eventually the PSA attacks the bark of the plant stock. The plant disease spreads quickly through wind and rain to the entire crop. Non-resistant bushes which are affected wilt during the summer before they bear fruit. Since then, due to new resistant varieties, PSA has thankfully started retreating. A great success for research and the industry.

Potential recognised

We can also thank T&G Global that kiwifruit are available. Under the corporate name of Turners & Growers, in the 1950s they were one of the first companies to export kiwis by ship. A worldwide journey of success began. Today T&G Global delivers to the markets in Australia, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. BayWa AG, Munich, is a majority shareholder of T&G Global.