New Zealand’s unique climate and versatile soils make us the best country in the world for growing apples. Plant & Food Research environmental scientist Dr Brent Clothier says our island geography gives us cool winters and warm summers that produce crisp and tasty New Zealand apples.
The stars have aligned for the apple industry in our little corner of the world, giving New Zealand the perfect apple growing climate.
The island nation of New Zealand spans similar latitudes to Italy and receives a comparable amount of sunshine. However being surrounded by the cool Pacific Ocean means our climate is more moderate than continental Europe. This blesses us with warm summers and mild winter temperatures, Plant & Food Research environmental scientist Dr Brent Clothier says.
“Climate is the most important thing when it comes to growing perfect apples and New Zealand is truly blessed. There are things you can do about soil limitations to improve apple productivity. But there’s not much you can do about a bad climate.”
Dr Clothier says our warm summers allow the fruit to ripen well and because they’re generally dry, the fruit isn’t prone to as much disease pressure as other apple growing countries.
“Cold winters give the trees a period of dormancy which allows the trees to build up ‘energy’ before the warmth of spring kicks them back into life. This dormancy gives us higher yields of crisp apples.”
New Zealand’s key apple growing regions are Hawke’s Bay, Central Otago and Nelson, each with its own unique “terroir” suited to different varieties of apples.
In Central Otago crisp frosty mornings in winter give way to months of beating sunshine that scorches the earth. But there’s water available for irrigation. So it’s the meteorological recipe for the best sun-sweetened crisp apples like Royal Gala and Cox’s Orange.
At the top of the South Island, Nelson is one of the sunniest regions in the country, allowing Braeburn and Jazz apples to flourish and on the east coast of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay’s cold frosty winters and long hot summers produce delicious Royal Gala, Rose, NZ Queen and Fuji varieties.
While climate is the most important factor for good apple growing, water and soil are also important, he says.
“We’re lucky to have good water resources to irrigate the orchards. In winter growers can also use sprinkler irrigation to fight frosts. We also have good, versatile soils. And where there are limitations, we can do things like carrying out artificial drainage so that we can improve the soil even further.”
This advantage of our natural assets is maximised by skilled growers and breeders.
“Our human capital complements our natural capital. We have talented people with fantastic knowledge of plant growing systems who manage the trees so they grow apples of the correct size that ripen at the correct time. This means our pickers can harvest them at their best. And consumers around the world can enjoy our crisp, delicious apples.”