Braeburn is an unpatented apple discovered in 1952 in a hedgerow at O. Moran’s Waiwhero, Nelson, New Zealand farm in the Moutere Hills, 5 miles inland. Williams Brothers Nursery propagated this hybrid of Lady Hamilton and perhaps Granny Smith, named after Braeburn Orchards in Lower Moutere. Europeans settled this northern coast of New Zealand’s south island in 1842. Waiwhero was founded during a gold rush 10 years later. Mature orchards were producing by the 1890s.
Braeburn was developed by Nelson growers and were not widely planted until the late 1980s. Marketing obstacles included “Braeburn browning disorder,” a post-harvest spoilage that occurs in non-ventilated, controlled-atmosphere storage and is not visible until the fruit is cut. In 1991 and 1992, frosts in Europe reduced apple harvests, and prices rose significantly. In response, New Zealand’s Apple and Pear Marketing Board, a government-regulated growers’ cooperative, solicited farmers to enter apple production, raising the number of growers from 400 to 1,600. By 2000, local hybrids were 77 percent of New Zealand’s apple crop.
Chile is the Southern Hemisphere’s top apple producer and exporter, ranking third in world exports behind the European Union and China. In 1999, when Braeburn was 60 percent of New Zealand’s annual 306,000 metric tonne crop, older reds were 70 percent of Chile’s 510,000 tonne crop. With competitors' hybrids earning better prices in Europe, in 2002 Chile focused on increasing acreage of Fuji, Jonathan, gala and Braeburn, although red delicious and golden delicious were still its top sellers.
Italy is Europe’s top apple grower, and the top seller is golden delicious. Italian Braeburn production was 31,000 tonnes in 2000, more than doubling to 75,000 tonnes in 2005. Total European apple production was 1.9 million tonnes in 2007, with Braeburn at 112,601 tonnes. Braeburn consumer preference is highest in England, ranking third behind gala and royal gala. England is committed to domestic production and harvested 1,000 tonnes of Braeburn in 2003 as additional orchards were planted.
As China, the United States, Chile and Europe began exporting Braeburn and gala apples, the number of New Zealand growers declined. In 1999, a glut of Southern Hemisphere apples and earlier, larger European crops combined to drive global prices down. Starting with Braeburn, export prices for New Zealand apples collapsed. The growers’ cooperative sold a juice subsidiary to cover losses as farmers faced bankruptcy and foreclosure.
By 2010, New Zealand’s market strategy focused on new varieties and Asian markets, exporting patent-protected jazz and pink lady apples. Market glut eliminated profit for the 2009 crop, resulting in Braeburns removal from many orchards. On May 2, 2009, The Nelson Mail reported that 300 Braeburn trees provided 6 truckloads of firewood for low-income families.