The first meeting of the NZ Avocado Promotion Committee (later the Avocado Promotion Association, and the forerunner of today’s Avocado Growers’ Association Inc. and Avocado Industry Council Ltd) was held on February 11, 1980 but avocados had been in New Zealand for many years before a formal industry structure came into being.
In the 1965 California Avocado Yearbook, C.A. Schroeder of the University of California wrote that the first avocado was probably introduced in the Gisborne area by the late Charles Grey in about 1920. In 1926 Charles’ son, the late Len Grey received avocado seeds distributed by the NZ Department of Agriculture. Len wrote in the same yearbook: “My late father raised several of these seedlings and, after about 12 to 14 years, one tree began to produce fruit of good quality, which we marketed in Auckland for the first time in 1939.” The fruit was well received, so the Greys decided to import a number of varieties from California. During the ’40s trials continued until they had some 20 varieties.
The country’s first commercial avocado orchard had been established. Selecting the most promising varieties, they began raising their own seedlings (mostly Mexicola) and by 1965 had around 600 trees. Main varieties included Fuerte, Nabal and Hass, with some Hazzard, Zutano, Hellen and Mary Martin. They found Hass a “good consistent cropper, with fruit of very high quality, and a tree which is compact and tidy in growth”.
However, already the irregular bearing issue, that still challenges the industry today, was appearing.
Len noted that in the ’60s avocados were not well known in New Zealand but the Grey family were giving them more publicity by exhibiting at horticultural shows, demonstrating uses of the fruit, and enclosing recipe leaflets and shop posters in each case marketed. Avocado promotion in New Zealand had begun.