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Agricultural Census Reveals Surge in Wine Grape Plantings

The area planted in wine grapes has increased significantly while the area in apples has decreased since 2000. The provisional results from the 2002 Agricultural Production Census highlight these significant changes since the last official survey was held in 2000.

The area planted in wine grapes has increased to 17,400 hectares as at 30 June 2002. That's a jump of 37 percent since 2000. While expansion was a known trend, the rate of expansion has surprised many.

The past ten years have seen a transformation in the variety mix of New Zealand grapes. Plantings of higher quality varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, have continued to replace bulk varieties. The New Zealand wine industry has found international success through the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and this has sparked a frenzy of growth in plantings in the new varieties, particularly in the Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne regions. Varieties such as Pinot Noir have proven to be successful in less traditional climates, leading to growth in areas such as Canterbury, Central Otago and Wairarapa.

Foreign investment in the New Zealand wine industry has occurred since the early 1960s. However, the success of New Zealand wine internationally has led to a surge of overseas investment into the industry in recent years. Much of the expansion in plantings has been carried out by large off-shore owned wineries. This trend is expected to continue.

On the other hand, there is a different story for apples. Total pipfruit area has decreased by 17 percent to 12,500 hectares from the planted area of 15,100 hectares recorded in 2000.

There have been a number of factors that have contributed to this reduction. Very poor grower returns for export fruit from the mid-1990s right through to the 2000/01 season and the subsequent impact of low orchard profitability has been a very significant factor. This led to a drop in confidence by growers and resulted in growers diversifying into other crops. These low returns also forced growers to abandon uneconomic varieties such as Red Delicious and many trees were removed.

In regions such as Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury in particular, urban spread and associated rural subdivision also contributed to the drop in pipfruit area.

It is generally recognised that the decline in the pipfruit sector has now halted and confidence is returning to the pipfruit industry following deregulation and the improved export prices received for pipfruit in the last season. To some extent the speed of recovery will be limited by tree availability in the coming years.

The 2002 Agricultural Production Census is the first to be held since 1994 and provides important information on what has been happening in the agricultural, forestry and horticultural sectors in recent years. Final statistics from the census will be released in May of this year, including detailed data at regional and district level, and additional information on horticultural crops, farm types, forestry and land use.

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