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Yields rose in 2022, but costs rising faster

The ongoing cost-price squeeze makes it all the more important to use industry benchmarking tools like the Orchard Business Analysis to identify opportunities for greater efficiency and return.

Key points:

  • 2022 gross yield highest on record
  • Average model Class 1 packout 70%
  • Return to wafer-thin profit forecast for 2023 crop
  • Wide range between upper and lower quartiles

The average gross yield achieved by the apple and pear industry’s Orchard Business Analysis (OBA) model orchard crop harvested in 2022 was 50.6 tonnes/hectare (t/ha) – the highest since the project began in 2008 – but due to a combination of low prices and high costs, like many growers, it lost money.

(It is interesting to note that the model average gross yield back in 2008 was 36.3t/ha which returned a profit after tax of >$7000/ha.)

The 2023 forecast yield (2023F) for the model orchard, based on panel member surveys conducted in late winter/early spring 2023, is for a slight dip back to 45.6t/ha, off the back of several severe weather events, contributing to improved prices and a wafer-thin profit for the first season since 2020.

Packouts for both years were/are forecast to be in line with long term trends at around 70 per cent.

Industry model

The OBA project has been delivered by AgFirst since 2008, funded initially by Hort Innovation and, since 2021, by APAL as part of its industry services.

The objective of the 2022 and 2023F report released just prior to Christmas is to determine the productivity and economic performance of the Australian pome fruit industry in 2022, and to forecast the 2023 result.

Data is drawn from a panel of growers nationally and is consolidated into a model to reflect a typical Australian orchard in terms of orchard size, production, and financial outcome. In 2022 the model orchard is again a 115ha property, of which 40ha is planted to pome fruit.

As well as indicating current performance, the OBA provides trends on yields, packouts, costs and income over more than a decade, and can be used for benchmarking and for modelling different scenarios such as change of market, variety and production.

Yield and quality

The 2022 and 2023F report shows both gross yield and class 1 (C1) yield have continued to trend upwards since 2010, with C1 packouts of 70 per cent in 2022 and 69 per cent in 2023F. This is back slightly on all-time highs of 73 per cent achieved in 2021, and 72 per cent in 2017 and 2020.

Most varieties in 2022 had a reduced packout from 2021, except Scifresh (marketed as Jazz™) and Packham pears, which were slightly up. The Packham average C1 packout of 67 per cent is the highest packout received by Packhams in the history of the model.

Class 1 recovery across the apple varieties in 2022 ranged from 62–78 per cent.

In 2022, high-coloured Cripps Pink sports generated the highest revenues per ha in the model, followed by Cripps Pink and Jazz.

Returns

However, despite stronger prices in 2022 and 2023F than 2021, the orchard surplus per ha (EBITDA/ha) in both 2022 and 2023F, is still below the model long term average.

Despite the record gross yield and close to record packout, in 2022 the model orchard showed a net trading loss of just over $4000/ha. This follows a deeper loss in the 2021 year and is the first time since the project began that the model has experienced consecutive trading losses.

Although the forecast for 2023F is for a very small return to profit for the first season since 2020 it is still below the model long term average, due to inflationary pressure driving higher input costs of production. Final results for 2023 will be published with the 2024 forecast in November 2024, and the report launched with the spring orchard walks.

Inside the averages

As in all seasons, there is a wide range in performance from the panel across blocks and varieties, and clearly with a tiny 2023F forecast trading profit of well under $1000/ha, a small deviation below the average yield or packout or revenue is the difference between breaking even and not:

– In 2022, the top Royal Gala grower achieved an average yield for the variety of 65.9t/ha, compared to the average Model orchard Royal Gala yield of 35.8t/ha.

– In 2022, the performance of Cripps Pink (sold domestically as Pink Lady) ranged across the grower panel from 6.3t/ha in a young block, to 103.3t/ha in an orchard comprised of mature blocks.

– Higher-coloured Cripps Pink sports blocks yields ranged from 21.3t/ha to 88.0t/ha. The model has a higher yield for the higher-coloured Cripps Pink sports compared to standard Cripps Pink and this is the same trend as the previous few years.

– Higher-coloured Cripps Pink sports generated the highest revenues per ha in the model, followed by Cripps Pink and Jazz.

Although model yields/ha have risen 39 per cent between 2008 and 2022, in part due to higher density, total costs per hectare have nearly doubled over the same period while the average C1 return/kg has risen just under 15 per cent.

APAL Industry Services Manager Justin Smith said with costs rising faster than productivity gains and returns, the results highlighted the need to pay attention to detail, get rid of underperforming blocks and focus on lifting packouts.

“Growers should be treating 50t/ha as the minimum and looking at what the upper quartile growers are doing differently,” he said. “The difference is likely to be understanding their data and paying attention to detail.”

Figure 1: Both gross yield and class 1 yield have trended upwards since 2010.

FAQ

Q: Is the OBA an average?

A: No, the OBA is based on real data collected from a national panel of 24 growers, consolidated into a model to reflect a typical Australian orchard in terms of orchard size, production, and financial outcome. In 2022 the model orchard is a 115ha property, of which 40ha is planted to pome fruit. Note: variety data includes all blocks of that variety (all ages including non-bearing), so low performing blocks may have a high proportion of younger trees.

Q: How is the OBA useful?

A: With data back to 2008, the OBA is a valuable tool for providing a financial snapshot of the industry, demonstrating trends over time ranging from yields, packouts, variety mix and costs as well as splitting out lower, medium and upper quartile data for benchmarking. Combined with the Orchard Census and Apple and Pear Crop Estimate it forms part of a valuable suite of industry data and forecasting tools available to growers.

Q: How do I get a copy?

A: The OBA report is available exclusively to levy-paying growers. To request a copy please contact APAL by emailing [email protected] or by phone on 03 9329 3511.

 

This article was first published in the Autumn 2024 edition of AFG.

 

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