Feijoa are very hardy and versatile fruit trees that require a minimum of care once established.
Indigenous to Brazil and Uruguay, the feijoa is an exotic fruit of subtropical origin that can be readily grown in many parts of New Zealand. Feijoas can be considered as either warm climate or subtropical.
First introduced into New Zealand in the early 1900s, the fruit was small, and it was another 20 years before new, larger cultivars with improved flavour were imported.
In May 2017, myrtle rust arrived in New Zealand. This serious fungal disease affects plants in the myrtle family, which includes pōhutukawa, mānuka and feijoa. At the time of writing, no feijoa trees have been infected, but it hasn’t been determined what, if any, long-term impact myrtle rust will have on the feijoa industry. More information on Myrtle Rust can be found on the MPI website.
Feijoas have good levels of vitamin C and dietary fibre. One fruit will provide 23 percent of an adult’s daily vitamin C needs. They are low in calories and a great source of minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Feijoas are a good source of one antioxidant in particular, proanthocyanidins. These have been shown to help reduce inflammation, counter the effects of ageing, and reduce the risks of some cancers.
An extensive range of feijoa products is now being made, including feijoa juice, chutney, relish, jelly, jam, liqueur, beer, wine, schnapps, chocolate, fudge, balsamic glaze and dressings, breakfast cereal, dried slices, aerated drinks, cosmetics, yoghurt and ice cream.
International demand has yet to be addressed through more aggressive promotion to increase demand beyond the domestic market. The main export market is Australia, with demand coming from ex-pat New Zealanders living there. The United States is a smaller but important market.
Increasing the quality of the fruit produced is important, firstly so more fruit is eligible for the export market, and secondly because the export market pays higher prices for the fruit, thereby increasing returns to the grower.
Local market feijoa sales totalled about 500 tonnes in 2015, and make up about 50 percent of total production. Demand for large-sized premium-grade fruit is increasing, helping to boost the perceived value of the fruit. In recent years wholesale prices (exclusive of GST) for premium-grade fruit have been:
- Large (90+g/fruit): $7 per kg in March and early April, falling to $4 per kg in the peak of the season, in early May;
- Medium (65–90 g): $5 per kg in March and early April, falling to $3 per kg in the peak of the season, in early May;
- Small < 65 g/fruit): prices can be good early in the season, fetching $3.50 per kg, but these fall to around $2 per kg at the peak of the season.
Prices for mediocre and poor fruit are normally much less.
Fresh fruit sales in the year to May 2016 increased 15 percent from the previous year, to a total of around 54 tonnes and a value of $462,000 – the highest in both value and volume since New Zealand records began. Australia was the largest market in 2016 (44 percent) followed by the United States (27 percent), Hong Kong (17 percent) and Singapore (9 percent). Australia can take all sizes, but demand for the larger sizes is higher. Most smaller sizes go to the United States.
Processed volumes are steadily increasing, and in 2015 year totalled about 450 tonnes. Most of the fruit goes into blended juices and wines. Prices received by growers (at the gate) vary from around $0.70–1.10 per kg, depending on the processor purchasing the fruit and the growers’ willingness for to supply in the lower price range.
Feijoas are a medium-vigorous tree, moderately compact and easy to manage. Plants are trained up on a single stem to 40 or 50 cm in the nursery for ease of harvest once the tree matures. Trees can also be trained to grow espalier-style on wires to make fruit picking more ergonomically efficient.
For most areas of New Zealand, planting in either spring or autumn is recommended. For areas subject to cold winters, planting should be done in spring, so the trees are established well before being subjected to cold conditions. For areas with mild winter conditions and/or subject to dry summers, planting should be done in autumn, so the trees are established well before being subjected to hot, dry conditions.
Most feijoa varieties require cross pollination, hence it’s necessary to plant more than one variety to ensure good fruit set. Alternating rows per variety is the most practical arrangement. Pollination is generally by birds, which are attracted to the brightly coloured flowers. In the North Island, blackbirds and mynas are the main pollinators, along with bees and bumblebees. Only the Unique variety is sufficiently self-fertile to be planted as a single block cultivar. Trees should be planted 3.5–4.5 m apart. At this spacing, trees will meet in the row after five years and will give 500–600 trees per hectare.
Feijoas fruit over a period of six weeks, from March through to June, depending on the region and cultivar. Commercially, fruit needs to be hand harvested (touch-picked) earlier rather than waiting until the fruit drops, to ensure it stays in good condition longer to reach export markets and achieve higher prices.
By year three the plant should yield approximately 2 kg of fruit, doubling each year until providing 20–25 kg of fruit.
Infrastructure required will be influenced by whether the farm’s existing assets can be used or modified for re-use. It also depends on the expected value of returns over subsequent years balanced with the necessity to acquire specific asset/s.
Typical infrastructure may include: packing shed, cooling room, implement shed, irrigation, shelter belts, fencing, mower, sprayer and miscellaneous equipment.
Feijoas prefer to grow in full sunlight. The trees are frost-hardy and will handle temperatures as low as -10°C. However, the fruit will only tolerate temperatures down to -2.5°C. Strong winds can affect feijoa fruit production. Orchard shelter should always be regarded as a necessity for commercial plantings, and ideally should be established before the crop is planted.
For quality fruit production, the soil must be free draining, slightly acid (pH 6.0–6.5) and reasonably fertile. Many New Zealand soils meet these needs. Waterlogged conditions are not desirable. On dry sites irrigation will be beneficial just before flowering to improve fruit set, and also in March and April to allow fruit to reach their potential.
No research is available for nitrogen leaching of a feijoa orchard, however it is not considered to be in the high range. Any land use change to a feijoa orchard planned for the Lake Rotorua catchment would need to be modelled for nitrogen leaching.
Feijoas are relatively pest and disease free. Leaf rollers, scale and thrips can attack feijoas, and if severe attack occurs can be controlled with insecticides. Guava moth is also moving slowly down the North Island from Northland and currently has no proven control, although pheromone traps designed to catch adult guava moths are available.
As mentioned, the fungal disease myrtle rust arrived in New Zealand in May 2017. The disease affects the myrtaceae family, which includes 3000 species, among them feijoa, pōhutukawa, rata, ramarama and mānuka, plus various garden ornamentals.
At the time of writing, infected locations are being treated with fungicide, and affected and at-risk plants are being safely destroyed. At this point, feijoa has not been affected and it is not known what long-term impact, if any, myrtle rust might have on the feijoa industry.
Depending on the degree to which existing infrastructure can be re-used, set up costs may run to $50,000 per hectare.
Potential returns will depend on the number of trees planted, how well the fruit can maintain a premium quality, and the state of the market. Gross return for 600 trees per hectare: 20 kg fruit/tree @ $4/kg x 600 trees = $48,000/hectare.
NZ Feijoa Growers Association
Frans de Jong, President
PO Box 29045, Ngaio, Wellington 6443
Tharfield Nursery (http://www.tharfield.co.nz/crop.php?fruitid=19_Feijoa)
Waimea Nurseries (https://www.waimeanurseries.co.nz/our-products/fruit-trees/feijoas/)
Lincoln University Financial Budget Manual 2016
Statistics NZ, Infoshare website (http://www.stats.govt.nz)