The combination of soil and climate means that Central Otago is especially suited to growing horticulture crops. The quality of these certainly matches fruit from anywhere else.
Feraud, an immigrant from France, planted the first fruit trees in the district. In 1864 he established a small orchard near Clyde. Unfortunately, as the only means of access to the market at Dunedin was via bullock wagon over 210 kilometres of marginal track, his business and the industry did not thrive at this time.
However, with the advent of improved transport (road and rail) and the use of irrigation the growing of horticultural crops became a profitable proposition. Plantings grew some 18 percent over the last five years and now total around 1,846 ha. Stone fruit such as cherry, apricot, peaches and nectarines and pip fruit, predominantly apples are the dominant crops.
One current challenge for Central horticulturalists is to move to low residue or organic production. Due to its harsh cold winters and warm dry summers Central Otago is best placed of all areas in New Zealand to produce fruit with the minimal amount of chemical assistance. Low residue and organic production systems and marketing programmes that emphasise the quality rather than quantity of Central’s fruit will enable a niche industry to maintain and increase its viability.
Another challenge is to maximise the returns and command premiums in the market. Image and quality of fruit is all important.