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Rural Insight: Niche crops offer new lifestyle opportunities.

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The prospects for New Zealand’s horticultural sector on having another bumper year looks positive with apples, kiwifruit and avocados all leading the charge for sales prospects making the sector worth $10 billion a year by 2020.

But behind those high profile crops are some lesser known crops that also bring opportunities for landowners wanting to spread their risk, and investors keen to be in on emerging high value horticultural exports.

Summer time is also often a period when people who have spent a restful period at the beach or lake spot start to think about how they could make a living at their particular retreat, sometimes growing crops that fit that location.

Bayleys New Zealand country manager Simon Anderson said the company’s agents have participated in a number of sales featuring niche type crops in unique locations that bring both challenges and lifestyle opportunities to their new owners.

Waikato agent Karl Davis says there is a surprising number of niche crop, specialty blocks around offering varied opportunities and income to anyone wanting a lifestyle change or income alternative.

He has recently completed the sale of a high profile macadamia nut orchard and business near Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula. The well-established property has enjoyed a high profile in recent years thanks to its processing and marketing of the “Cathedral Cove” brand of premium nuts.

The 6.7ha property included 1000 macadamia trees, shedding shop and home which was on the market of $1.15 million.

“The purchase was by someone outside the region seeking a definitive change in lifestyle, with a business that was already well established, but offered the potential to push a bit further in terms of sales and branding. It covered all the bases from growing to marketing for someone seeking the challenge, in a stunning location,” he says.

Almost directly on the opposite coast Karl Davis of Bayleys also negotiated the sale of a niche vineyard at Glen Murray, west of Huntly for $865,000.

Located in a less than traditional wine growing district the 7ha property included 8000 Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grape vines, and 340 olive trees against a native bush setting. It came complete with an 1800s home with a separate cottage used for bed and breakfast guests.

Karl Davis’s colleague Lee Carter says this property appealed to a couple wanting to escape Auckland, and who were seeking a business their family could also be engaged in.

Opportunities for niche crops and lifestyle combinations may also lie in common and plentiful feijoas. As the rest of the world starts to discover a taste that Kiwis have known for generations, opportunities are developing for orchards of scale to meet that demand.

New markets for the fruit are opening up and last year’s exports were the highest ever reported, with a 15% increase to $500,000 to May 2016.

Difficulties in exporting the fruit are reflected in its relatively low historical export levels of only about 10% of the crop. However improvements in cultivars and harvesting techniques are opening up the capacity to ship more offshore.

Todd Abrahams is managing director for feijoa brand Zeijoa. The company is in its fourth year exporting under its premium brand, and now operates under shared growerownership. 

He says the New Zealand domestic market is relatively saturated with fruit, and exporting is likely to succeed more if growers co-operate under a brand or group, as his have done.

But he cautions investors or landowners considering feijoas and expecting an easy and fast return.

“You have to be prepared to be in there for the long haul, and expect it may take up to 10 years to be really established. This is a relatively new export, and the days of being a cottage industry are gone, you need scale.

“Compared to avocados where you can start making money as soon as you buy a block, feijoas will require more effort.”

Over in the Bay of Plenty where kiwifruit and avocados already thrive, a more recent niche crop to become established on the back of kiwifruit’s success are Kiwi-berries.

Known in some countries as the baby kiwi, and part of the kiwifruit family the berry grows wild in parts of China. Rich in antioxidants and with an edible skin, the berries are ticking the boxes as a convenient, healthy “super fruit” more and more consumers are seeking.

At present there are 22ha in production for the berries, grown in a similar means to kiwi fruit on pergola systems, and the berries offer an alternative crop to kiwifruit with high value markets developing through Asia.

Simon Anderson of Bayleys said crop options were far greater than even 10 years ago, depending upon the location. But he urged potential investors to closely consider the marketing and infrastructure that sat behind niche crops on properties they may be considering.

“It is really encouraging to see the larger more established crops like kiwifruit have provided good grower focused models for these smaller emerging crops to base themselves on.

“In all cases they seem to be aware of the need for growers collectively working together building markets and setting standards, rather than each pitching against one another off shore.”

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