WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center

Postharvest Information Network

Saturday, February 16, 2019

WSU-TFREC/Postharvest Information Network/New Zealand's Approach to Postharvest Handling of Apples

New Zealand's Approach to Postharvest Handling of Apples


We traveled in New Zealand for twelve working days in February and March of 1992, visiting all of the major production districts. We discussed the industry in depth with researchers, growers and marketers. At the time of our visit the Gala harvest was just beginning and most growers had completed one picking. The season was delayed due to unseasonably cool weather.

New Zealand consists primarily of two large islands about 1,000 miles east of Australia. The islands combined stretch 1,000 miles from north to south, between the 34th and 48th parallels in the southern hemisphere. The islands have a maximum width of only 140 miles. The total area of New Zealand is about the size of Colorado. The country's population is less than 3.5 million, with one-third of the people living in the city of Auckland. Thus, large areas of the country are sparsely populated.

Production Districts

The major apple growing districts are Hawkes Bay in the center of the north island and Nelson in the northern part of the south island. There are large new plantings of apples around Christchurch in the center of the south island as well.

Hawkes Bay, the largest production district, is at a latitude of 39.5 degrees which corresponds to Yuba City, California. Nelson is at about the latitude of Shasta Lake, California, and Christchurch approximately that of Roseburg, Oregon. New Zealand's growing season is longer than Washington's.

The climate in New Zealand is Mediterranean due to the closeness of the ocean. The summers are cooler and the winters are warmer than in temperate Washington. Microclimates abound in New Zealand since some areas are dominated by high mountains. Each of the three growing districts we visited grows fruit with slightly different characteristics due to climatic differences.

Fruit Volume

The amount of fruit grown in New Zealand as compared with amount exported is large. New Zealand produced 20.7 million boxes of apples and pears in 1991. Of this, 11.5 million was exported, 1.9 million consumed in New Zealand and 7.3 million processed. Per box returns have increased dramatically over the last few years, due in part to the popularity of the Royal Gala and Braeburn. There are approximately 1,350 fruit growers and 10,500 seasonal workers in the apple and pear industry.


One of the major reasons for our visit to New Zealand was to study how an industry which is a month by sea from its markets could have such a strong market impact. New Zealand sells apples in 50 countries. Most of the fruit is sold in the UK, Europe and USA.

We believe that the strong positive market impact is due to varieties of apples grown, a strong quality control program and vertical integration of growing, handling and marketing. The concept of vertical integration is so strong it seems like the entire fruit industry is one company with growers, packers, laboratories and marketers working lock-step together. At the top of the pyramid is the New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board (NZAPMB = the Board), the sole marketer of all apples and pears grown in New Zealand, whether sold domestically or internationally.


New Zealand growers have selected varieties which are popular in the world marketplace. Gala and Royal Gala are widely planted. Braeburn and Fuji are harvested in record numbers. Granny Smith and Cox are still leading varieties but Red and Golden Delicious are declining in volume. Returns per packed box are excellent for certain varieties. Royal Gala and Braeburn returned twice as much as any other variety last year.

The Board predicts what varieties they think the world market will desire in the next 5-10 years and makes suggestions to growers. Growers are free to plant the varieties they wish. The Board has funded an extensive breeding program which is successfully developing new varieties of apples and pears. In addition the industry has funded "FIPIA," an organization that seeks budwood from the best trees of the most desirable varieties and propagates this in cooperation with nurserymen in an effort to continuously improve fruit quality.

The Board is governed by six people, four nominated by the Fruit Grower's Federation and two appointed by the government, to protect the New Zealand consumers. The Board pays the grower an initial preset price and reimburses all packing costs. In return the Board receives title to the fruit and becomes responsible for marketing it. Total net earnings from this marketing, minus a deduction for the future capital requirements of the industry, are then returned to the growers. Per carton return to the growers has grown steadily since the Board was established and has nearly doubled over the past decade.

The industry is committed to provide the world with premier varieties of high quality fruit. The Board funds research, quality assurance programs, cooling, cold storage, CA and laboratory facilities. It also operates juice processing plants to process the 30% of the crop that does not meet export standards.

Production Aspects

All apples are planted on M.M.106 since woolly apple aphid is a problem in most other rootstocks. Variability in tree quality from the nursery is a problem, especially in pears where interstems are used. The planting of dormant budded rootstock in the orchard saves time getting trees into production.

Microsprinkler irrigation is present in many orchards with the tubing hung in the tree. Herbicide strips are used.

Most growing districts experience an extremely long growing season where trees set fruit buds well before harvest. Fruit buds and fruit commonly appear on the same spur. Trees are very precocious with reasonable crops harvested on 1-year wood. There can be up to 1,000 fruit on a single tree. The bloom period often covers three weeks and the trees do not lose their leaves for several months after harvest.

Controlling pests can require up to 23 trips through the orchard from petal fall through harvest to qualify for the U.S. market.

Maturity of New Varieties

In order to understand how New Zealand growers determine harvest date, one must understand their storage program. Apples are harvested, packed, cooled and then assembled for shipment to over 50 countries. The journey to markets in Europe takes 1 month. Some ships have controlled atmosphere (CA) generators on board, while others are just refrigerated. Once in Europe the fruit may be sold immediately or stored in either CA or regular storage for 1-2 months. CA is used in New Zealand for fruit for the domestic market and to slightly extend the marketing season for some export destinations. Thus, apples are not stored very long.

Harvest timing is regulated by the Board. A special laboratory has been set up within each growing district to advise growers when to harvest. Harvest season for each cultivar is determined in the laboratory and growers can extend harvest for certain blocks after they prove to the Board that their fruit is not overmature.

The opening of harvest season for Royal Gala and Braeburn is determined by ground color on the fruit and starch pattern. The closing for Braeburn is predicted by measuring the evolution of ethylene and anticipating when it will reach a certain level. Background color is used for closing the Royal Gala harvest season.

Every variety, including Red Delicious, is picked more than once. Most apples are selected for harvest on the basis of ground color. Red skin color is an attribute of the variety/cultivar and growing conditions, not a measure of maturity. Every tree of Royal Gala or Braeburn may be picked four or more times with pickers selecting fruit larger than a certain size and of a specific ground color.


Apples are harvested into picking bags and the fruit is transported in bins. The bins have slatted sides and bottoms. Bin liners are not commonly used. The fruit is brought into a packinghouse and is either packed immediately or held under a mesh shade house. A small amount of refrigerated storage is available at some packinghouses.

The Board demands that fruit be packed and delivered to a Board cold storage less than 48 hours from harvest for pears and 72 hours for apples. Board cold storages are located in each of the growing districts.

There are about 450 packinghouses of varying sophistication. Most of those we saw were modern. No chemical applications to fruit are allowed after harvest with the possible exception of DPA or calcium. Fruit is not waxed. Chlorine is not used in the water system--the water is changed every week or every 600 bins.

No soap, detergents or cleaners are used on the fruit.

The fruit is water-dumped and floated to risers. On the risers the fruit is sprayed with fresh water and the fruit is then sorted into either export class, processing or culls. In some instances fruit is removed from the processing for a domestic grade.

Lights on the packing tables are high CRI fluorescent bulbs and the tables are illuminated at above 1,000 lux (100 foot candle). Each 3-foot bulb costs approximately $14 US. Fixtures run across the table, not parallel to it. Each bulb is sleeved and each fixture is 4 feet above the table. The tables are flat with two belts and the cull shoot all on the same level. The tables were uniformly lighted and very clean.

Usually there is only one sorter on each side of each table. Sorters are closely supervised by the quality control (QC) people who evaluate accuracy and productivity. In some sheds the cull line from each sorter leads to the QC people who examine the culls from each sorter. The QC people are packinghouse employees and they examine a certain number of boxes of fruit each hour to make sure that it meets export standards. In order to assure uniformity of pack, the Board supplies preprinted cartons and paper trays.

The packing process of the fruit on the line consists of dumping it into water and a fresh water rinse above the dump tank. The fruit passes over the sorting table, is sized by weight, filled into trays and placed in boxes. Some polyliners are used, especially on Cox and on smaller Royal Gala. The fruit is then palletized and transported to the Board cold storages.


The packed boxes are delivered to the Board cold storages within 48 hours of harvest. The trucks stop for a mandatory QC check prior to being admitted to the cold storage. If the fruit does not pass export standards it is returned to the packinghouse and repacked or sent to processing.

At this point USA-APHIS and other countries' inspectors certify the fruit for shipment to the destination country. If the fruit passes all inspections it is placed in huge cold rooms, some holding 200,000 boxes, for forced air cooling. Large tarps cover the fruit and huge fans suck the air through the handholds in the cartons. Fruit packed without polyliners is cooled within 24 hours. It takes twice as long to cool fruit with polyliners. Once cooled, the fruit is transferred to a holding area where a boatload of fruit is assembled.


Fruit is taken directly from the cold storages to the dock. Fruit is shipped break bulk (in individual cartons in the ship's hold) on refrigerated ships. This year 74 ships were ordered. The Board has developed mobile CA units that attach to ships. Once a ship docks in its destination country, the CA unit is removed and shipped by air freight back to New Zealand to start the trip again.

Quality Control—Packed Box

New Zealand sells fruit in 50 countries, many of which do not have the same standards for fruit quality, sanitation or pesticide residue. There are several types of quality control programs in place to satisfy the authorities and to guarantee that New Zealand apples are packed to a uniformly high standard.

"Quality control," or "total quality control," or "total quality management" are terms we heard often. We never received an adequate definition of these terms. Associated terms included teamwork, quality awareness and ISO 9002. We need to learn more about these philosophies.

Packed box quality control is a function of uniformity of pack, cleanliness, visual fruit quality and weight. It is checked first by the packinghouses' QC employees who are trained by the Board QC people. The packinghouse QC people often report directly to the operations manager who can stop packing immediately.

A copy of the QC report is sent with every truckload of fruit as it goes to the Board cold storage. At the cold storage approximately 1% of the boxes are checked at random by the Board's QC people who work from the packinghouse QC report. If there is any problem, the fruit is rejected and must return to the packinghouse.

Fruit is graded on cosmetic blemishes, uniformity of color, serious defects and insect damage or presence. The total defects cannot exceed more than 6%. In spite of differences in growing conditions between districts, all fruit had visible high quality due to rigorously enforced standards.

Grower and packinghouse identification numbers follow the fruit through the marketing channels. When the fruit arrives at its destination in a foreign country the Board's representative meets it and, if there are any problems, both the packinghouse and growers are advised.

Quality Control—Disorder Reduction

In Europe, bitter pit on Cox's Orange Pippin apples from New Zealand has been a long-term problem. The Board implemented a mineral analysis program developed by Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) scientists who developed predictive levels of fruit calcium needed for Cox apples free of bitter pit.

The Board recommends that all orchards be sprayed repeatedly with calcium throughout the growing season. In addition, fruit from all Cox and Braeburn orchards is tested for fruit mineral content by the Board's technicians.

The Board has adopted a specific standardized orchard sampling program.

If fruit calcium is low, the fruit cannot be exported. If the calcium is marginal, the fruit can be drenched with calcium after harvest and certain sizes are not allowed to be exported. Ratios of calcium with magnesium and potassium are also being developed as predictive tools. Postharvest application of calcium is used only on fruit that is marginal. Their studies have shown that calcium can be increased by 5% by postharvest drenching. Orchard sprays provide the largest increase in fruit calcium. No vacuum infiltration is used in New Zealand. Calcium chloride is the most widely used product for sprays and drenches.

Bruise reduction is controlled in the orchard. During harvest, one orchardist takes 25 apple samples from each picker twice a day, holds the fruit overnight and examines it in the morning. Pickers who bruise fruit excessively are penalized.

Quality Control—Pesticide Residues

Insect and disease control is a challenge in New Zealand. Scab, leafrollers and woolly apple aphids are frequent problems. At the same time countries around the world are applying different pesticide residue standards. The Board has recently set up an extremely comprehensive pesticide residue testing program. Every grower must submit spray records on an approved Board form to the lab prior to harvest. If a nonapproved chemical is listed, the fruit cannot be exported. In addition, every orchard block is sampled and tested for residues. If illegal residues are found, the fruit cannot be marketed.

Research Report

Research on apples and pears in New Zealand is done for the most part by DSIR and to a lesser degree by the Board's research staff and MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries). DSIR and MAF will merge this summer to form a number of research institutes, and apple research will fall to scientists within the Horticultural Research Institute.

New Zealand, like many other countries, has instituted a "user pays" system of funding research. Under this system all costs associated with a project are billed to the project. Thus, salaries for scientists, technicians and secretaries and experimental costs must be recovered. Government will continue to pay for research in the "public interest."

Fortunately for the fruit industry (and the scientists), each year the Board supports research on apples and pears at about $1.5 million U.S. (roughly 13 cents per export carton). They work in a similar fashion to our Tree Fruit Research Commission in that they commission and review projects from scientists. However, growers are not on the Technical Review Board. The Board's technical and administrative staff together with other scientists evaluate projects. Historically most of the funds have been devoted to projects that make apples more salable, not projects that improve production technologies.

The research objectives of the Board are clearly stated:

  1. To maintain a varietal mix to satisfy international and local markets by providing new, unique and improved apple and pear varieties
  2. To help gain access to new markets and preserve existing ones by research and development activities to complement QC systems
  3. To increase market competitiveness by improving fruit quality and extending storage and shelf life, and
  4. To increase economic and operational efficiencies through the introduction of new and proven technologies in fruit handling, storage, packaging, transport and crop forecasting.

Each year the Board also grants at least one Ph.D. fellowship for study of benefit to the New Zealand apple and pear industry.

We have many problems in common with the New Zealand fruit industry. Researchers are working on many subjects familiar to us:

  1. Alternative methods to control storage scald (Granny Smith, Fuji
  2. Alternative methods to methyl bromide for insect disinfestation
  3. Apple maturity
  4. Modified atmosphere packaging
  5. Flavor preservation
  6. Consumer acceptance
  7. Calcium and disorders
  8. Reducing fruit shrivel
  9. Nondestructive firmness testing
  10. Breeding of new apple and pear varieties
  11. Integrated pest control


Several remarkable things about our trip to New Zealand will leave a lasting impression. The people were friendly and generous with time and information. The country itself is just as all the books have said, truly beautiful.

The fruit trees grow well and set fruit very early. The amount of fruit set on each limb was incredible. It is obviously a wonderful place to grow apples.

Overriding the industry was a feeling of support, cooperation and working for the common good.

Finally, it would be difficult to find an agricultural industry anywhere in the world that compares with the discipline the growers, packers and Board people have demonstrated. This is evidenced in their progression to new varieties, their adoption of maturity standards, the agreement on pesticide residue analysis, their grade standards, their QC programs in the packinghouses and in their cooling and fruit handling process. In addition they have developed an excellent feedback system to determine the requirements of distant marketplaces.

The New Zealand apple and pear industry has achieved worldwide recognition. Their success is largely the result of the discipline employed throughout the industry. These are good lessons for the Washington industry.

Dr. Eugene Kupferman(1), Tom Mathison(2), and Les Green(3)

(1) WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center
1100 N. Western Ave., Wenatchee, WA 98801
(2)Stemilt Growers
(3)Wells and Wade

Tree Fruit Postharvest Journal 3(1):3-8
April 1992

Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center, 1100 N Western Ave, Washington State University, Wenatchee WA 98801, 509-663-8181, Contact Us