The 2019 New Zealand kiwifruit harvest is underway, with the first of an estimated industry-wide 150m trays picked and packed in Gisborne this week.
The Poverty Bay area surrounding Gisborne is a noted early season production hub, with vines in this region maturing more quickly than the rest of the country.
“Over March, orchards in the Bay of Plenty, Northland, Counties-Manukau, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, the lower North Island and Tasman will follow suit – it’s going to be a bumper crop,” said Nikki Johnson, chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI).
The first run of kiwifruit is predominantly the gold variety, with the green kiwifruit harvest coming into full force in late March. The last fruit is picked in June.
Leading grower-packer EastPack is among a number of growers picking early-season fruit this year. EastPack chief executive Hamish Simson said the season has started earlier than usual.
“We’ve already packed fruit at our Edgecumbe and Opotiki sites and expect our other four sites to be in full swing by next week,” Simson explained.
Despite the optimistic crop outlook, the possibility of a labour shortage still hangs over the industry’s head.
Johnson said the industry would require around 18,000 workers through the harvest period, with the recruitment campaign targeting local students and retirees, along with backpackers.
NZKGI has sought to mitigate a potential shortage through an outreach and promotion programme pitched at potential labour sources.
“We’ve gone all-out to tell our potential workers about the roles, pay and other important information – and dispel some of the myths about the work,” Johnson explained.
“We’ll soon know if it’s had an impact, when the major picking starts, and we’ll be doing contingency planning if we do have an issue in a month’s time.”