Carmen is a social issues and rural reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

New facilities for kiwifruit companies

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Apata Group Limited has invested millions into capital expenditure that includes completing two coolstores on its Apata site at Katikati. Photo / John Borren
Apata Group Limited has invested millions into capital expenditure that includes completing two coolstores on its Apata site at Katikati. Photo / John Borren

Bay post harvest companies have pumped more than $120 million into new facilities on the eve of the kiwifruit harvest which is expected to be a record breaker, industry leaders say.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec said it was "great news for the local economy, signifying strong confidence the kiwifruit industry and the broader horticultural sector.

"It all adds up to supporting more workers and their families, who will have more in their pockets to spend."

Priority One chief executive Andrew Coker said the growth of the kiwifruit industry would have significant economic flow-on effects to other sectors.

"The turnaround reflects an industry that has completely recovered from the devastating Psa virus because it has invested in research and development and was able to act quickly to establish a new variety and mitigate the impact."

Apata Group Limited chief financial officer Eugene Crosby said Apata had invested about $14 million into capital expenditure and bought a second site in Paengaroa last year, "to give us the option for further growth the Te Puke side of Tauranga".

This year the company would also spend $12m completing two coolstores on its Apata site and upgrading a packing line on one of the Te Puke sites.

The industry crop estimate was expected to jump by 17 per cent or up 147 million trays, while Apata's crop estimate had increased by about 20 per cent, Mr Crosby said.

"The crop increase is fuelled by SunGold canopies maturing and the second year in a row of what look like exceptional Hayward (Green) yields."

Apata also expected to employ more seasonal staff to cope with demand, with numbers up from 650 in 2015 to 800 in 2016.

"It's getting more challenging every year and the industry has lost a lot of experience to other industries, areas or overseas during Psa, which makes it more challenging.

"We recruit locally for the Bay while New Zealanders from out of region and backpackers from overseas are still filling vacancies."

EastPack chief executive Hamish Simson said EastPack had invested more than $50m in capacity and fruit quality infrastructure over the past three years including $26 million leading up to the 2016 harvest.

"One of the positive spin-offs of investing in technology throughout our packing facilities is the ability to process considerably more fruit without requiring more seasonal personnel," he said.

"In fact, this season we have recruited about the same number of seasonal personnel as last year."

Recruitment has gone well and virtually all positions company-wide were filled, he said, but "we are always on the lookout for great people with the right skills and attitude to join the EastPack team".

DMS operations manager Derek Masters said it "is spending a significant amount of money on a coolstore capital expansion at both Te Puke and Te Puna sites".

It was looking at potentially increasing staff levels by 200 due to increases in its 24-hour operation on some of the packing lines, he said.

Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said Seeka's planned capital expenditure was $20m this year to develop new infrastructure to handle increasing kiwifruit volumes with a new static storage at its KKP site already underway.

A new headquarters was also being redeveloped on the 7.4ha former Kiwi360 site that would begin next month, he said.

In 2015, Seeka pumped $16.4m into capital expenditure that included an extra coolstore at Oakside and an expansion. Seeka was expecting to pack 28.2 million class 1 trays in the coming season, up on the 27.5 million trays last year and expected to employ more than 3500 seasonal workers, in addition to its 245 permanent staff.

Meanwhile, Trevelyans was installing a $3 million optical technology fruit handling machine as part of a major expansion project.

It expected to spend $12 million on the development that included two new coolstores capable of holding an extra 800,000 trays, a brand-new packhouse and access road.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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