17 Nov 2023

Peony export growers 'picking furiously' in short, sharp season

2:19 pm on 17 November 2023
Peony flowers packed for shipment.

Peony flowers packed for shipment. Photo: Supplied / Boundary Gardens Ltd

Commercial flower growers are frantically picking their plush, pink peonies to get them off to export markets before they start to bloom.

New Zealand exports about $3 million worth of stems, from about 40 peony export growers scattered throughout the South Island and the bottom of the North Island.

NZ Bloom is the country's main peony exporter. Its managing director David Ballard said its off-shore markets were going pleasingly well so far this season.

There was strong competition from Chile and Australia at the start of the season, he said, but that had eased with growers about a third of the way through the peony season.

"The United States is the largest and it's having a good year, but China's also come back into the market this year and has been buying really solidly," Ballard said.

"[Australia] seems to have gotten through their local crop, and we're getting good demand out of Australia, plus about 20 other countries we're shipping to in much smaller volumes."

Ballard said prices were reasonable, helped by the low NZ dollar.

Returns for growers would be similar or a bit softer to last year, which was a bumper export season, he said.

Peony flowers in full bloom.

Peony flowers in full bloom. Photo: Supplied / Boundary Gardens Ltd

"Last year was an extremely strong wedding season in the US, so there was a particularly strong demand for certain types of colours in that first part of the season.

"And of course that's settled down to a more normal wedding pattern, that was a post-Covid wedding surge."

It is a case of so far so good for Wairarapa grower Ian Fletcher of Boundary Gardens.

Fletcher has about 9000 plants over a hectare in Masterton and has been exporting peonies for about a decade through NZ Bloom.

He and his small crew have been frantically picking since early November, helped by good weather across Wairarapa.

"There is a peak, which we're at for the next two or three days, so we'll be getting several thousand stems a day into the chiller and sorting them out, grading them and packing them - getting them off as quickly as we can, so picking furiously," Fletcher said.

"This time next week, I bet we'll be down to picking less than half the day and putting most of our effort into packing. And in three week's time, I think we'll be tidying up so it's as sharply seasonal as that.

"It's an economic miracle, it really is."

Peony plants

Peony plants Photo: Supplied / Boundary Gardens Ltd

He said time was of the essence to pick the fragile flower and send them off for their export markets.

"We pick them just when they're beginning to be soft and showing signs of opening. If they've opened up, it's far too late," Fletcher said.

The Boundary Gardens company also sells olive oil.