Primed to tap into premium export market

Primed to tap into premium export market
Horticulturalists Ross and Sharon Kirk established Hortinvest in 2016 to offer their growing and marketing expertise to investors seeking to benefit from the lucrative cherry industry.

Central Otago horticultural investment specialist, Hortinvest Limited, has seized on a rapidly growing global demand for premium New Zealand cherries to develop three orchard investment ventures spanning more than 200 hectares in the Cromwell Basin – and an apricot project is set to follow.
Experienced horticulturalists Ross and Sharon Kirk established Hortinvest in 2016 to offer their growing and marketing expertise (across multiple fresh produce lines) to investors seeking to benefit from the lucrative cherry industry.
Since then they have worked with a syndicate of investors to develop Tarras Cherry Corp – a 40-hectare orchard in the Cromwell Basin which is on track to produce its first crop in 2020 . Two other $15.5 million cherry projects released to investors in November 2018 and January this year, are under development at Lindis River and Mt Pisa.
The projects both span 80 hectares and are set within vast sheep and beef stations. Stage one plantings, underwritten by the landowners involved in each project, along with three cornerstone investors, are already complete.
These orchards are expected to harvest their first crops in 2021-2022. Marketing and sales manager Sharon Kirk said Hortinvest expected to produce some 4,000 tonnes of cherries for export when all three projects reached full mature production by 2026.
“We collaborated with the sheep and beef land-owners at Lindis Peak Station and Mt Pisa Station to develop portions of their properties as they were seeking to diversify into horticulture and ensure the long-term viability of their farming businesses. These landowners have invested in these projects and a range of other investors from New Zealand and overseas have applied to invest in them,” she said.
Mrs Kirk, who has exported New Zealand cherries for some 30 years, has experienced the exponential rise in demand first hand, primarily from Asia’s rising middle class which desires quality, luxury products.
“Export sales for New Zealand cherries have quadrupled in the past five years to a record of more than 4000 tonnes in 2017-2018. Sales decreased about 40 per cent in 2018-2019 due to seasonal conditions but we predict this will return to 4-5000 tonnes this coming summer.
There’s an extraordinary opportunity to produce more New Zealand cherries and especially in Central Otago which has the reputation for producing the world’s best, backed up by the ideal climate and soils,” she said.
“New Zealand cherries already fetch the highest price per kilo on global markets and Summerfruit NZ predicts this will continue to growth over the next 20 years.”

Primed to tap into premium export market
Growing trees at Tarras Cherry corp. Hortinvest advised on cherry varietal selection, orchard planting, irrigation systems and the bird-proof and hail-resistant nets. The orchard, planted in June 2018, is on track to harvest its first crop in December 2020.

We have free tree access to Asia, our season is perfectly timed to supply the lucrative Lunar New Year market and we have an air freight advantage over our main competitor, Chile, which exports by sea.
“There are endless opportunities in cherries with existing and emerging markets throughout Asia and Europe opening to investors. However, at a cost of approximately $200,000 per hectare to establish an orchard, these ventures are expensive.”
Hortinvest managed all steps in the supply process including setting up leading-edge orchard and packhouse infrastructure, and handling operational, freight, logistics, marketing and packaging functions under a vertically integrated grower-packer-shipper model, she said.“We’re not about scale at the cost of quality. The world is demanding quality and we aim to maintain that premium position.
It’s also wise to diversify our offer beyond cherries so we have identified the premium apricot export market as ideal for development.” A 30-40 hectare apricot venture was expected to open to investors in 2020, she said.
“We have access to new varieties bred by Plant Research NZ Limited and selected for size, colour and flavour attributes which will appeal to export customers. “We’ve already ordered the first trees which will be planted next winter.”
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