©Chestnut Traders 2002
With help from NetInsites
No one is certain when the first chestnut trees were imported into
New Zealand. One of the oldest known trees was in Brooklands Park,
New Plymouth, which had been planted in 1847, and reached a diameter
of 2.29 metres. Another well known specimen is in Wanganui: "It
was planted by Major Nixon over 100 years ago, and can be seen growing
at the roadside at the end of Sedgewick Street" .
By the 1880s, at least one nurseryman was offering all four main
species: Castanea dentata, C. crenata, C. mollissima and
C. sativa. A number of trees planted by early settlers still
grow in many parks, farms and gardens throughout the country. However
today, aside from recent importations, only trees of the European
and Japanese species and natural hybrids that have occurred between
them can be found.
Chestnut trees will grow well across most of New Zealand, but only
produce good quality nuts reliably each season in some regions.
There is still a significant amount of work to be done in assessing
the viability of commercial production in some areas or sites. From
1975, the New Zealand Tree Crops Association (NZTCA) started recording
chestnut trees that appeared to have some commercial potential,
based largely on nut size, but also including shape, splitting,
mutli-embryonic tendencies, pellicle intrusion and colour. Today's
principal cultivars 1005 and 1015 were first recorded by NZTCA in
Propagation of recorded chestnuts started about 1977, and small
commercial trial plantings began about 1980. Most orchards have
been established in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Rotorua areas.
There have also been plantings in Hawkes Bay, Horowhenua and Canterbury.
Recently there has been significant new planting in the Auckland
New Zealand is free from most disease and pests that have plagued
the traditional chestnut-growing areas. In particular there is no
chestnut blight (which has all but wiped out the American chestnut
in the US, and is severely depleting yields in Europe) and the gall
wasp is not established.
Three common Euro-Japanese hybrids, known as cultivars 1002, 1005
and 1015, form the basis of today's commercial plantings and account
for in excess of 95% of the total crop (see table).
Approx % of crop
|Produces variable-sized nuts, late in the season.
Some years produces high reject rate (splits). Nuts often fall
in the burr. Strong tree form. Recommended primarily as a pollinator.
|Produces large to very large nuts, early in the
season. Nut quality can be variable. Very strong tree form.
|Produces medium to large nuts, mid-season. Heaviest
yielding and best keeping nut. Weak tree form, and susceptible
to wind breakage.
There are also some varieties of Japanese chestnut (cultivars
902, 905 & 907) in New Zealand's orchards, although generally not
in commercial quantities. Although they produce very large nuts,
their performance has been erratic, and the trees are not as hardy
or adaptable as the hybrids.
There are no reliable figures as to the production from each region.
Estimates suggest that total production is in excess of 300 tonnes
per year, perhaps split Waikato 45%, Bay of Plenty 40%, Auckland
less than 10% and South Island less than 5%.
The harvest season varies according to the weather, the altitude
and the latitude, but only by about three weeks. For example
- Chestnut Traders' orchard in Auckland starts (with 1005) in
the last week of February. The 1015 nuts start in mid-March and
all is finished by mid-April. This would be amongst the early
orchards, but many Bay of Plenty orchards will be similar.
- In the Waikato, 1005s start in mid March, and the season ends
at the end of April. That is, it is 2-3 weeks later than Auckland.
However, some higher orchards are a further week behind this,
and do not finish until mid-May.
- South Island 1005s start about a week behind Waikato, and the
season runs until the first week of May. South Island trees take
much longer to mature and start producing nuts than those in the
Chestnut growers are encouraged to belong to the New Zealand Chestnut
Council (NZCC), the recognised industry body.
Chestnuts are a product group organised under control of the Horticulture
Export Authority (HEA), controlled by its own Act of Parliament.
All exports must be undertaken by a licensed exporter, who must
be registered with the HEA and the appropriate product group. Each
product group develops an Export Marketing Strategy (EMS).
HEA and the EMS are designed to ensure quality standards are maintained,
and that marketing is orderly. Neither HEA nor NZCC undertake any
marketing in their own right. Private individuals and companies
undertake this. Exporters must be licensed with HEA and NZCC, and
must adhere to the EMS.