NZ Farmer - Growers have irrigation to thank as heat threatens fruit and vegetable stocks

Supplies of fruit and vegetables are still plentiful in spite of, or perhaps because of the heat wave covering the country.

And milk quality has not been affected, unlike across the Tasman where Australian baristas are complaining it is not at its frothy best.

Fruit and vegetable growers running out of water are having problems because of the heat but otherwise it is "business as usual", Horticulture New Zealand senior business manager John Seymour said.

Tonnages of frozen peas would be lower than usual because this season the hot weather brought them to maturity at once and processors could not deal with the volume.

"It's not a blanket problem, not all growers are suffering because of the drought because it depends on where they are and what they are growing."

There had been a flow-on effect from the very wet winter and spring. First there was crop damage, followed by a difficulty with harvesting, and then late planting because vehicles could not work the land.

Seymour said some planting had been a month to six weeks late, and while the heat had brought crops on, that created other problems.

"The crops which are being irrigated are not affected unless their water is getting cut off which is becoming a bit of an issue in places because of the new consent rules. They can't actually source water, but it's business as usual if you've got irrigation."

HortNZ has been calling for irrigation as the best way to ensure adequate water supply for fruit and vegetables.

Seymour agreed that irrigation was under a cloud because it was associated with intensified dairying, but in fact horticulture used at most about a fifth that needed for dairying.

HortNZ chief executive Mike Chapman said relying on water to fall from the sky was not enough.

"There are benefits to every New Zealander from having a reliable water supply. But there are inconsistent policies across central and local government when it comes to water, land use, preparing for climate change goals, and community needs."

Leaderbrand sales manager Richard Burke said talk of shortages because of the weather was misleading.

"There are vegetables which are sensitive to heat, especially some lettuces, but growers can grow different varieties and it's very unlikely a grower will be reliant on one variety."

"We've been impacted more by the thunderstorms that have been rolling through. You can get 50mm of rain in 15 minutes and the amount of damage it does is huge," Burke said.

Meanwhile grapes ripening ahead of schedule have given growers headaches as they hunt for sufficient workers to harvest the crop.

The hot weather has raised the prospect of a bumper crop, but New Zealand Wine Growers chief executive Philip Gregan said there were some labour supply issues around the country.

In Australia, barista Tiffany Weyman of Maleny Dairies has complained about the loss of texture in milk and consequent failure to froth an adequate latte.   

"The heat gets to the girls [cows] a fair bit and it affects the different type of milk they give us," she told the ABC.

No such quality issues have surfaced in New Zealand, although it has not had Australia's extremes of temperature.

A  Mojo Coffee spokeswoman said the company was particularly careful about maintaining its milk at a cool temperature and not keeping it in bottles but specially cooled bladders.

"It's like an iced cow underneath the bench, they sit in a really chilled, stainless steel box."

Fonterra Research and Development Centre's chief science and technology officer Dr Jeremy Hill said it might be possible that high temperatures on the farm had an impact.

"Milk quality varies depending on the breed of cow and her feed. It might also be affected by climate."