NZ avocado shortage leads to crime wave

A shortage of avocados in New Zealand has prompted criminal gangs to target orchards.
A shortage of avocados in New Zealand has prompted criminal gangs to target orchards.

New Zealand avocado growers are scrambling to keep up with demand as interest in the highly desired fruit continues to skyrocket and organised crime rings target orchards.

Avocado production in New Zealand has risen from about 30,000 trees five years ago to over 200,000 trees this year, Jen Scoular, chief executive of New Zealand Avocado told dpa on Wednesday.

But a very light crop, coupled with the fact that the fruit is out of season, has seen prices explode. The average cost of the fruit is $NZ5 ($A4.55).

Earlier this month, police reported an avocado "crime wave" in the popular Bay of Plenty growing region in the North Island and in April a series of brazen daylight thefts - one of them committed by an elderly man on a mobility scooter - were reported.

The huge demand has resulted in an upswing in production of avocado trees at the country's two major nurseries, and the opening of three new nurseries.

The high prices have inspired many garden owners to get their own trees.

"Who wouldn't want an avocado tree in their backyard that produced 500 fresh avocados," said Stephen Wade, manager of Lynwood Nurseries, which alone grew 150,000 trees last year.

Despite having expanded his orchard's production by 500 per cent, garden centres are still running out of the highly sought after trees with some setting up waiting lists for avocado lovers.

Avocados, originally from Mexico, grow successfully in the warmer, northern half of New Zealand' North Island and some places in the South Island.

New Zealand's avocado industry is worth $NZ150 million ($A136 million) in sales, with $NZ105 million from export markets and $NZ45 million from the local market.

Australian Associated Press