Avocado exports drop amid air freight capacity woes

Avocado exports appear to be the latest COVID-casualty due to shrinking air freight capacity.

Figures from Auckland Airport for August, the traditional start of the avocado export season, show an almost 60 percent drop in avocados sent by air to overseas markets compared to the same month in 2019.

Auckland Airport Aeronautical Commercial manager Scott Tasker said air exports to Korea and Thailand were particularly hard hit.

"That's really reflecting a crunch in air freight capacity into those markets."

"Cargo capacity between Auckland and Korea was down 44 percent and 89 percent through to Thailand. It looks like some of that has shifted across to sea freight, with a 15 percent increase in avocado leaving Ports of Auckland and Ports of Tauranga."

However, he said sea freight exporting was harder to time and the majority of avocado exports - about two-thirds - were typically done by air.

"Normally we'd expect a fair proportion of avocado exports to go via sea freight to Australia, with significant exports flying out to markets further away. This mixed-freight strategy allows the fruit to arrive in top condition and capitalise on seasonal market peaks. It's definitely harder to time the market when you're planning longer lead times if you're sending your crop via sea freight.

"And sea freight is really only an option for crops that ripen further after picking and can have that process slowed by cool storage. More fragile crops, such as cherries and flowers, really rely on air freight for fast connections to overseas markets."

Tasker said the outlook, although predicted to be more stable than August, remained bleak.

"Forecast data suggests international cargo capacity between September and November to be stable compared to August, albeit down between 32 percent and 42 percent year-on-year.

"However, capacity in December is likely to reduce further as airlines look to cancel currently scheduled flights closer to the date if a lack of passenger demand due to border closures in New Zealand and elsewhere remains."

Auckland Airport handled 90 percent of the country's international air cargo in August.