Brazen thieves have been targeting avocado growers in the district, with up to a dozen theft complaints to Western Bay police in the past six weeks.
Tauranga Detective Brian Dudley told the Bay of Plenty Times the reports included thefts of immature crops from orchards in Pyes Pa, Bethlehem and Katikati, and a similar reported theft at an Athenree orchard over Queen's Birthday weekend.
Mr Dudley said those involved in the thriving black market sales of stolen avocado were primarily selling the fruit at markets and small stores.
I understand at least one Bethlehem property has been targeted three times. We also know other people are losing fruit, but may not yet be aware of it.
"We believe the majority of the stolen fruit has ended up being sold in the Auckland marketplace, and most of our inquiries have been centred around this area.
"At one orchard a group of people, including some women with children in tow, were seen taking avocados and we recently visited Auckland to make inquiries in relation to that theft."
Mr Dudley said police had received up to a dozen theft complaints from growers in the district in the past six weeks.
"We have heard some properties had fruit stolen on a number of occasions. I understand at least one Bethlehem property has been targeted three times. We also know other people are losing fruit, but may not yet be aware of it," he said.
Mr Dudley said the numbers of reported thefts had increased from last year.
"I think this is indicative of the current price of the fruit, which is pretty high compared to last year, although it has come down from the $6 cost it was a couple of weeks ago."
Last month a 200g avocado cost on average $4.50 compared to $1.65 in May last year.
Waihi police Sergeant Aaron Fraser said police had a suspect in mind in relation to the Queen's Birthday theft and were following good leads.
"We believe it's a man who lives in the eastern Waikato area but we are certainly aware of similar complaints in the Western Bay police district."
One orchard suggested they had about 300 pieces of fruit stolen.
New Zealand Avocado chief executive Jen Scoular said there had been reports of avocados stolen in Te Puke, the lower Kaimai Range, Waihi, Athenree and Katikati.
Mrs Scoular said there were a few incidents every year, but last month it was rife.
"This is the low time in the market, it has been particularly bad at the moment because there is a shortage of avocados so the demand is particularly high."
"One orchard suggested they had about 300 pieces of fruit stolen."
The fruit being stolen was not ready to be harvested and would not be edible.
"It's not going to ripen well and they taste horrible ... avocado orchards in New Zealand have to pass a maturity test before their crop can be picked."
Mrs Scoular said stolen avocados would probably be a shiny bright green colour and most likely to have no stalk or a stalk about 3 to 4cm long.
"If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.
Orchard hit for past five years
Grower Maxine Graham says avocados have been stolen from her orchard over the past five years.
The Lower Kaimai resident said theft was a problem for avocado orchardists across the industry. Mrs Graham and her partner, Robin Hanvey, had owned the orchard for about 12 years.
"We get hit every year. This year Rob was spraying the orchard at about 9pm. He turned his tractor to go back on his run and he saw these headlights in the orchard.
A car was just driving around through the trees and when Rob approached him, the man replied, 'I am just looking for my uncle, bro.'
"The man left the orchard and turned left to head up the ranges but then pulled over to the side of the road when another man ran out of the orchard and jumped into the vehicle.
"A couple of days later we found a duvet cover in the orchard with between 60 or 70 avocados in it. We disturbed them while they were in action."
"Every year we have thefts. They think they have a right to walk into our property and steal our fruit. Quite often you see mounds of fruit stacked up all over the place."
Ms Graham said they now had to padlock all of their gates. They had also installed electric fences to protect the fruit, but these were stolen.
"It's gotten to the stage if we see a car stopped on the side of the road near our property we take the registration and the model of the car down, in case there is another theft."
Some thefts also took place during the day.
"Once they cut the padlock on the gate, backed their car in with a duvet in the back, stripped a whole lot of trees, filled up and then drove out."
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