The first of this season's kiwifruit export crop was loaded at the Port of Tauranga yesterday, bound for Zespri's biggest market, Japan.

Pallets and containers of freshly-picked kiwifruit were loaded on to the Lapponian Reefer, which was due to sail for Kawasaki this morning.

The season's first shipment symbolised the return of optimism to an industry barely three-and-a-half years after the vine-killing disease Psa began to spread gloom through Te Puke orchards.

A frost in Chile last year that wiped out almost half that country's kiwifruit crop was expected to boost export prices for New Zealand's crop.


Zespri chairman Peter McBride said exports would continue until late October or early November, with the majority of the crop shipped in reefer ships, which he compared to floating coolstores.

A growing percentage of kiwifruit was going out in containers, although reefer ships were better at holding temperatures at a more consistent level, he said. Spain and China were Zespri's other big markets.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers president Neil Trebilco said confidence was high among growers. "There is a real positive mood among growers. They are in a very good space.

"I'd say they are in the best space they have been in for years in terms of the industry and prospects on their own orchards."

The growing optimism was reflected by higher per tray returns, rises in orchard values and the banks allowing growers to reinvest in their orchards. Gold kiwifruit volumes could be up 40 to 50 per cent this season and may reach pre-Psa levels as early as next year.

Zespri's general manager of grower and government relations Simon Limmer said the new G30 gold variety replacing the Psa-susceptible Zespri Gold was bearing good-tasting fruit and showed signs of high productivity and yield.

The 2013 season remained on track to return the highest-ever average per hectare return on green kiwifruit. Returns were up for all categories of kiwifruit except Green14, which remained steady.

Mr Limmer said the industry was not out of the woods, with growers still battling Psa, but volumes were rebuilding.